Aidan Carr considered walking away. Eleven seasons under his belt and the birth of his first child before Christmas had retirement playing on his mind.
But given 2016 had been so dire from a Down perspective — the county lost all seven of their national league games in Division 1, fell to Monaghan by 19-points in Ulster and then exited the championship at home to Longford — Carr didn’t want to be seen as jumping from a sinking ship. A few words of advice from his wife, Mary, and his mind was made up.
“The two of us had a chat about I going back and she said: ‘Listen, Aidan, I’m never going to tell you not to go back, I know how much you love it. But if you’re going back, I want you to do it full-out, don’t go back and have regrets about it.”
Going ‘full-out’ earlier in the year wasn’t easy given baby Aoibhe’s arrival two weeks before Christmas.
“You think times are tough until a baby comes along and starts teething and you’re trying to figure out how to change a nappy and bath her,” says the 32-year old Down footballer.
“Coming out of the hospital I was thinking, ‘what do I do here now?’ I actually went for dinner last Thursday to celebrate the fact that she’s six months and we’ve kept her alive this long.
“It’s a real eye-opener and you are running on empty for a wee while. I remember hearing boys saying before they couldn’t make training because they had a child, and I used to think that was a poor excuse. I’ve a new appreciation now, though.”
He’s also appreciative of having another crack at an Ulster final. With his father, Ross, winning four Ulster and two All-Ireland medals during his time in the black and red, Aidan’s childhood summers were filled with Sunday outings to Clones and Croke Park.
“Growing up, football to me meant big championship days in Clones, but I’ve only ever played in one Ulster final. That’s a nothing record. Even that day in 2012, Donegal beat us by 11 points.
“You can look back and think you were part of a panel in 2010 and part of a panel in 2012 that got to two finals (one Ulster, one All-Ireland), but it’s not an awful lot to show for 11 years.”
Indeed, their win over Armagh at the quarter-final juncture was the county’s first in Ulster since 2013.
Their upturn in form, says Carr, introduced late on during the semi-final victory over Monaghan, stems from the 1-10 to 0-13 draw they managed away to Cork on the league’s concluding Sunday. The result saw Down survive in Division 2 by virtue of superior scoring difference to Derry.
“It’s actually the first time I ever got a result of any positive nature against Cork. They’re the only team we were never able to beat. We were able to beat Dublin in Newry, Kerry in the Championship, Mayo in Newry and in Mayo, but Cork always seemed to have it over us.
“They had some massive wins against us, double-scores, and then there was one year in Newry where we were winning the game up until injury-time and they got a goal to beat us by a point. At that stage, I never thought I’d get another crack at them.
"Getting that result against Cork and staying up was a big thing for us coming into the championship. It lifted everybody. If we had gone down to Division three, it would have been back-to-back relegations and a real downer ahead of the championship.”
Carr concludes: “Up until this year, the majority of the boys had never played Championship football in July. You go through the starting team and four or five, maybe, had played in July. Normally at this stage of the year, we’re on holidays.
"I’d say a few of the girlfriends aren’t too impressed because they’re not getting the usual summer holiday and their boys can’t go to weddings or at least have to come home early from them. This is a situation they’re not used to.
“For us older guys it’s nice to experience it again. It’s exciting for everyone.”
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