By Michael McMullan
CATHERINE McGourty picked up her fourth Ulster medal on Saturday and already has an eye on the All-Ireland campaign, which begins with the visit of Clare next month.
McGourty won her first medal at centre forward on their 2005 winning team, hitting two points on a day Karen Gribbin bagged two goals with early substitute Máirín McAleenan amassing 4-3 of Down’s tally.
Their win over holders Antrim on Saturday was title number 21 for Down and a fourth in five seasons with the 2020 competition not played due to Covid – frustrating for them as they felt the momentum was there to make it four successive Ulster titles.
She missed the 2017 and 2018 seasons with injury, missing their run to the All-Ireland final. Struggling to battle off niggles, McGourty – who first played for the county in 1999 – opted for the goalkeeper jersey and hasn’t looked back since.
“This is the best Down team I have played on,” McGourty admits. They have lost players over the last few seasons, but believe they can beat anybody on their day.
A mixed league campaign included a 5-11 to 0-11 defeat to Antrim, as well as Wexford and champions Waterford who met in the final.
The potential rematch in the championship was the focus, and McGourty wasn’t surprised with the stern test the Saffrons got from Derry in the semi-final.
“We knew we had the potential of beating them,” she said. “We respected them massively, before the game, the three teams in Ulster at the minute, ourselves, Antrim and Derry, there is now a lot between us all.”
With Niamh Mallon and Sarah Louise Carr providing the firepower up front, it allowed Down’s management to adopt a defensive side of their game, building from the back to link with their ace duo.
“Those two players would give any team in Ireland bother,” McGourty said. “The management team went away and watched the Antrim game from the start of the year.”
With injuries and club commitments, neither side were at full strength, but Paul Donnelly and his selectors spotted Antrim’s strengths and weaknesses before hatching their plan.
“They did a really good job on that,” McGourty added. “Apart from the 10-15 minutes of the second half, we controlled the game and were quite calm in what we were doing.
“That was a massive plus, the organisation before the game, and everybody knew their role and responsibility on the day…it worked out very well.
“We were very well organised in defence and it was something we knew had to get right in defence. That was a big talking point during the week that we had to fix that.”
Now it’s time to get the focus on the All-Ireland series and Down have been handed a tough group with two of the top seeds – Cork and Galway – in their group. Antrim will host Clare before taking on Cork (A) and Galway.
“We want to throw everything at it and give it our best shot,” she said of their focus.
““We came in at the start of the year and we know the potential of our team. A quarter-final spot isn’t really that far away for us.”