Sunday, 21 March 1993 – the greatest day in Down hurling history? It may well have been.
Not only did they beat All-Ireland champions Kilkenny by a point in a National League game in Nowlan Park, they also qualified for the Division 1 quarter-finals for the first time.
“No fluke and we can have no excuses. We were out-hurled today – simple as that,” said Kilkenny selector, Nickey Brennan after one of the biggest surprises ever in Nowlan Park.
Down finished second behind Tipperary in a group that also included Limerick, Kilkenny, Offaly and Antrim
That shock had implications, sending Kilkenny, who fielded 12 of their 1992 All-Ireland winning team, hurtling into Division 2. Heady times for Down, who had won the Ulster title in 1992 and picked up their first All Star when Gerard McGrattan was chosen at right half-forward. He remains the only Down hurler to win an All Star.
He was aboard the team that secured that famous victory in Nowlan Park, as were many of our top 20. Down hurling enjoyed a great period in the 1990s, winning three Ulster titles in six seasons and competing strongly with the top counties.
We’ve Noel Sands at No 1 in recognition of his excellent finishing. Unlike McGrattan, he didn’t win an All Star, but was nominated on four occasions between 1992 and 1997.
Noel Keith takes second spot, thanks to a long career where his consistency was on par with the country’s top ’keepers. There was anger in Down when he missed out on an All Star nomination in 1992, but he was included in 1993 and again in 1996.
McGrattan crowned and excellent season in 1992 when scoring 0-5 from play against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final, a return which looked very good on his CV at All Star selection time.
1. Noel Sands, 2. Noel Keith, 3. Gerard McGrattan, 4. Marty Mallon, 5. Paddy Branniff, 6. Danny Hughes, 7. Chris Mageean, 8. Gary Savage, 9. Kevin Coulter, 10. Paul Branniff, 11. Gerard Coulter, 12. Martin Bailie, 13. Graham Clarke, 14. Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson, 15. Dermot O’Prey, 16. Paul McMullan, 17. Dermot Woods, 18. Conor Woods, 19. Paul Coulter, 20. Michael Blaney
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