Gough swaps friends and foes as Down debut looms
CONNOR GOUGH, the former Armagh minor star who is expected to make his senior debut for Down against the Orchard county in the McKenna Cup on Sunday, has revealed why he made his surprise switch.
"A huge part of it was to play with my mates," he said yesterday. "I went to school in St Colman's College (Newry) and the majority of my friends play with Down and especially with them going (away) to college this year, I wouldn't have seen them as much."
Originally from Poyntzpass, Gough has been playing his club football with Newry Shamrocks for the past two years and lined out for both their minors and seniors last year.
He also starred for Newry's famous local schools nursery, captaining St Colman's when they won the All-Ireland colleges' title last season.
Armagh very much regard Gough as the one that got away following his surprise transfer to the Mournes before Christmas.
The 6'5" teenager has starred for the Armagh minors for the last two summers and helped them reach last year's Ulster minor final, which they lost to Cavan.
Gough said he had not suffered too much at the hands of his former Armagh colleagues since moving.
"My friends are good mates who wished me all the best and at the end of the day it's about football and this makes more sense for me," he explained.
"I'm just eager to learn and the older (Down) lads have been brilliant in giving me tips in the gym and out on the field, they sort of have my back.
"I'll be putting in the best in every game I can and just trying to break into the panel."
With Down having lost only Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney this season, they have a settled look about them -- although manager James McCartan has had to make some injury-enforced adjustments to his panel and the progress of U-21s like Ryan Brady and Keith Quinn will be closely watched.
Armagh have lost midfielder Kieran Toner to emigration, while Steven McDonnell is currently on an extended break as his wife is expecting a baby. Both are expected back in the spring.
They must also plan without the huge Crossmaglen contingent because of their club commitments and the panel includes 12 inter-county rookies.
Young talents like Mark Hughes and Sean Moore are among those who will be looking to make a name for themselves.
Meanwhile, only two of Tipperary's history-making minor footballers have been promoted into the county's senior ranks, even though John Evans' side has been devastated by emigration and retirements.
The Premier county youngsters caused a sensation last summer by beating the Limerick, Cork and Kerry minors in Munster and then defeating Meath and Roscommon in the All-Ireland series before putting a highly fancied Dublin to the sword in the All-Ireland final, securing the county's first football victory at that level in 77 years.
Corner-forward captain Liam McGrath and full-forward Michael Quinlivan of that side have been immediately elevated to the seniors but Evans stressed yesterday that no pressure should be put on any of the boys of 2011 this year.
"There are actually only six of that team who will not be minors again next year, which is very unusual," he noted. "Two of those are doing their Leaving Cert and two more of them are concentrating on the U-21s, so we have just included Quinlivan and McGrath in our McGrath Cup squad and we'll see how they get on from there.
"We've been very badly hit by emigration and retirements so it's a great lift to be able to bring up two good minors like that. But no one should be getting carried away or pushing these youngsters too hard at this stage.
"We've won a Munster U-21 title and an All-Ireland minor but personally I feel it's more Munster minor and U-21 titles that should be Tipperary's focus still.
"It's only when you are winning those regularly that you can speak about translating that into senior success. We've got a great start now but there's a three-to-four-year focus with these youngsters and it's a case of building on things slowly, brick by brick."
Evans said that his senior squad has been decimated since last year and will be very experimental in this year's Allianz National League, when they open their Division 3 campaign away to Roscommon on February 5. Chris Aylward has emigrated, Niall Curran has retired and Stephen Hahessy is also away at present.
On top of that George Hannigan, Ciaran McGrath, Cathal Dillon and Seamus Grogan are all away travelling until the spring at least and Evans said he does not expect them to be available during the league campaign.
"Robbie Costigan is back now but otherwise we've been hit hard and there's nearly a dozen changes to the panel so it will be very much take it has it comes," he said.