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Down v Derry rivalry

An underrated rivalry in GAA, but Derry v Down has produced some fantastic pockets of brilliance over the decades — with some exceptional footballers

An underrated rivalry in GAA, but Derry v Down has produced some fantastic pockets of brilliance over the decades — with some exceptional footballers. Visit to check out these jerseys — and use promo code ‘OurGame’ to get 15% off.

Some GAA rivalries on founded on poison, on the notion that contempt is bred from familiarity.

That’s not the case with Down v Derry, as for long spells of Gaelic football history, they did not meet in huge games.

That makes the examination of this rivalry no less interesting; it simply works in a different way.

Rather than season-defining clashes coming every couple of seasons, these two have shared pockets of footballing lore.

Consider the period between 1958 and 1961, for example. Up until that point, neither Down nor Derry had every lifted an Ulster senior football title.

So when they met in Clones, much was at stake. The Oak Leaf county took their honours on that occasion, and even saw off a Kerry side led by star players Mick O’Dwyer and Mick O’Connell in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Dublin would win the final at Croke Park, but what a season it proved to be, and one that had been launched in London at Wembley — as discussed in the video above.

Emboldened by their rival’s success, Down broke the glass season in 1959 to win what would be the first of three Ulster crowns in a row.

In both 1960 and ’61, they became the first county from north of the border to win the Sam Maguire Cup, before adding another in 1968.

When the Mourne County again lifted the All-Ireland title in 1991 with a side managed by Pete McGrath, it kicked-started a period of Ulster dominance.

During this first half of this particular decade, these two sides had some of the most tense and pulsating clashes in football history.

Down needed a replay to win in 1991, but that only came after Ross Carr had drilled a 55-yard free over the bar to draw level in the first game at the Athletic Grounds.

Donegal, of course, won the All-Ireland in 1992 but then Derry finally made their biggest breakthrough of all with a team backboned by Tony Scullion, Anthony Tohill, Henry Downey, Joe Brolly and Co.

En route, Derry won a game that became known as ‘The Massacre at the Marshes’, of which Down defender Brian Burns later spoke.

“My Championship debut was against Derry in 1993, the first round in Newry, ‘the Massacre in the Marshes’,” he recalled.

“I was having a solid game until late in the first half when I sustained a nasty head injury that needed eight staples.

“I was starting my undergrad degree finals the following morning – the less said about the result that day the better.”

A year later, in 1994, Down had their chance for revenge. A clash of the All-Ireland champions from two of the previous three seasons.

“By this time they (Derry) were All-Ireland champions,” said Down boss McGrath.

“Celtic Park was going to be the showdown of showdowns. No back doors.

“But of all teams I have managed, no team trained as hard as that team of 1994. God rest Pat O’Hare, he was our trainer and the physical training was ferocious.

“These were men on a mission. Reputations were at stake, players and mine as well.”

Players such as James McCartan gave stirring performances, as the men in red and black once more went all the way.

Please click play on the video at the top of the page to see our discussion on the rivalry, and visit to check out these jerseys — and use promo code ‘OurGame’ to get 15% off.

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