Our Games… with Down’s Kevin McGuigan

Name: Kevin McGuigan.

Teams played for: Newry Shamrocks and Down.

Current involvement:

Performance analyst with Down seniors and a coach with the Newry Shamrocks u-15s.

Which club game that you played in will you never forget and why?

Any of the games against Ballyholland, but the most memorable was in 2007 away to them. We hadn’t been beaten by Ballyholland in a couple of years but were played off the pitch for the whole match.

Somehow they were only a point ahead in the last few minutes. We scored a free-kick to level it, and then won a 45. The referee said it was the last kick. Having never kicked a 45 in my life, I decided I was hitting it, and thankfully I got it right.

We won by a point. I was on the county squad with Paul Murphy and Ronan Murtagh at the time, and was certain neither would ever speak to me again after that evening.

Which club game that you watched will you never forget and why?

Rostrevor against Clonduff in a club championship match in what must have been the late ‘90s.

With about 10 minutes to go it had been a nothing match, I think Clonduff were comfortable, nothing spectacular to have anyone enthused about Gaelic. Then, in the last 10 minutes it all kicked off.

I think there were three or four goals and at least one red card. Rostrevor overhauled the lead, then Clonduff won it with a goal right at the death. I remember my brother-in-law standing gobsmacked, as much at the passion in the stand as what was happening on the pitch. It was the perfect snapshot of what championship football can be.

Which county game that you played in will you never forget and why?

Down against Cavan in the Ulster Championship preliminary round at Páirc Esler in 2007. We had drawn the first game the week before in Breffni Park – it was my championship debut and I had a difficult enough outing at corner-back, got caught badly for a goal by Jason Reilly.

I heard plenty about it during the week that followed from the media and my own team-mates. It was one of the roughest weeks I had in football. The replay was the first game on the newly finished Páirc Esler. A freshly laid pitch, my own home club, and thankfully the management gave me another crack at it.

I kept Jason Reilly scoreless and he was taken off at about 50 minutes, and then I even chipped in with a point of my own. I think we won the game by three or four points.

Which county game that you watched will you never forget and why?

I’m a child of the early ‘90s so I could pick any of them – Down v Derry in 1994 is the obvious choice. But I’m going to say Down v Kerry in 2010. I worked in Ulster GAA at the time, and every Friday around the lunch table the staff would do their predictions for the weekend’s matches. Needless to say everyone tipped Kerry, except me, and of course I got laughed out the door, not least by Tony Scullion, I’m sure he laughed all the way back to the ‘Screen that evening when I predicted a Down win.

Then the game itself was just one of those that as a Down fan you live for. When everything goes well early on, the confidence starts to flow and all of a sudden there is another champagne performance with the defending All-Ireland champions looking out of their depth. That was the best Monday I had going into Ulster GAA HQ in Armagh.

What was the funniest thing you ever saw in a game?

The Loughran twins sticking together – I’ve no idea who the opposition were, but Brendy, at corner-forward, was on the receiving end of some close attention, and Gareth, at full-back, decided he’d seen enough and took off up the pitch.

By the time he made it up the moment was long gone and calmed down, and even Brendy was looking wild at him as to what he was doing up there. Gareth having to do the walk of shame back down the pitch was a great moment, trying to maintain his look of anger, while everyone around was laughing away at his adventure.

What was the strangest thing you ever saw in a game?

At the Shamrocks we were under pressure in a tough Division Two game. We were away and down quite a few players with injuries. I must have been one of them as I was watching from the sideline.

There was nothing in the game for the first 10 minutes, then their midfielder and goalkeeper started having words with each other about the kick-outs, next thing their ’keeper was charging out to confront him, and then there is a full scale boxing match between them while all the Shamrocks lads were stood watching.

The referee had no real option and lined the pair of them. So what could have been a very tough game for us ended up comfortable as we were 15 v 13 for about 50 minutes of it with them having lost two key players.

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you watched?

Mickey Linden against Derry in ‘94. Plenty is known about that game, and the rivalry that existed between those teams, but Linden that day was just pure excitement.

Every time he got the ball you were waiting for something special, and more often than not he delivered. Even when Kieran McKeever moved on to him for some special attention he delivered an inspired score. An exceptional performance from the whole team, and Mickey in particular.

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you played?

Ross Carr against Clonduff. I think it was my first season playing senior football, I got named at six, lined out and Ross Carr came over to mark me.

I’d grown up with that group of players as my role models, now I was marking Ross and in my head I was thinking I had the legs ‘he’s pushing 40 at the this stage, I’m 17, I’ll just run him.’

I got an absolute lesson in how valuable experience can be in football. I think Ross scored five or six points, set up another handful and I barely touched the ball and didn’t get near him all day.

My earliest lesson in senior football was that there was so much more to the game than being fit and fast.

What did you love about the games you played in?

The rawness of the emotion in some games, promotion/relegation play-offs throughout my club career were some of the most intense and enjoyable I ever came across, a fair few of which were against Ballyholland.

I absolutely loved that rivalry, used to hate the build-up to the games, but once they threw in they were the best and most memorable games by far.

What did you hate about the games you played in?

The bullshit narrative that so many managers and coaches spun about how they ‘hated this lot’.

As I became a little bit older the idea that I should find that narrative motivating wore a little thin. Through playing and my career with Ulster GAA I got to know a lot of people away from the pitch, and then I’m being told that I should dislike them because we’re playing against them. It didn’t do it for me. There were plenty of other reasons to be motivated in games, it didn’t need a manufactured hatred of the opposition.

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