WHATEVER happens this weekend, Brendan McVeigh will not be short of fireside stories for the grandchildren in his winter years.
Chief among them will be the dying seconds of this year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kildare, when the Down goalkeeper was one of 15players squeezed inside their own square as Rob Kelly put his foot through the ball.
“It was pandemonium,” recalled the 31-year-old. “People said afterwards they were nearly having heart attacks in the stand but they should have been standing where I was. But I never thought they were going to score a goal. We had men on the line and I knew if I didn’t get there one of the other boys would!.”
Sunday’s final and the accompanying circus will swell that chest of tales but McVeigh won’t have the opportunity to sit down and dwell on all they have achieved this summer until after David Coldrick blows the final whistle.
“Only when, hopefully, we win Sam, can we enjoy it. I enjoyed the build-up to the Kerry game most. That day we clicked for 70 minutes. It was the most enjoyable win so far.”
He has waited long enough for days like these. A few more will hardly hurt. His first season was 2003 and it produced an Ulster final appearance against Tyrone but the pain of a defeat in the replay was exacerbated by another six years of mediocrity. For much of that time, it was the county’s shortcomings at the back that were deemed most culpable.
But 2010 has witnessed a serious upgrade. James McCartan’s influence has been heralded as a contributing factor. A number of personnel changes – some enforced – have produced a defence more comfortable in its skin.
“We had a good league and we got solid then. There’s been a few changes in there too, with Kevin McKernan and Dan (Gordon) coming into defence since the Tyrone match. It shows the strength and depth we have there.”
Gordon’s rerouting from midfield to full-back has been a key piece to the jigsaw. When Down kicked off their championship campaign against Donegal four months ago, Gordon was still in the middle beside Kalum King while Brendan McArdle was number three in a defence that conceded two goals. Ambrose Rogers’ return to fitness and Peter Fitzpatrick’s arrival into the mix duly paved the way for Gordon’s retreat down the park and McVeigh has been quick to develop a smooth understanding with the 6’ 3” teacher in front of him.
“I already had an understanding with Dan with him being in midfield and me kicking the kickouts to him. It’s the same with calls and shouts.
“Now I just let him go for everything because he’s a big man so I expect him to deal with everything. We often have boys playing in different positions at different stages of matches. It’s something we have worked on.”
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