Two years to the day after he sustained a horrific injury in Croke Park, Down captain Ambrose Rogers returned to lead his side into the All Ireland football semi-final.
It’s a great feeling to be heading back up the road in the team bus rather than being taken by ambulance to hospital,” he said after their quarter-final win over Kerry
“This has to be my best day in a Down jersey.
“We’re fortunate to have some fantastic footballers, but just as important is the effort they are all prepared to put in.”
There is little doubt that the captaincy has taken Rogers’ game to a different level and he’s quick to acknowledge the contribution of other players who have displayed real leadership qualities.
“We could never have imagined that things would have worked out so well. People had written us off and while Kerry were short of a number of players, any Kerry side that comes to Croke Park comes expecting to win,” he admitted.
“They have an unbelievable Championship tradition and for us to have had any chance we needed to be playing flat out for the full 70 minutes.
“There were different times in the match when we got in crucial tackles and blocks and in addition we managed to get vital scores at the right time.”
The Down captain, who led from the front for the full 70 minutes, was quick to acknowledge the value of Down’s breath-taking start, Mark Poland’s goal arriving in less than 60 seconds.
“Against a side the calibre of Kerry it’s paramount that you start well and then finish strongly. There was a spell in the first half when we lost our shape just a little bit and they got four unanswered points,” he said.
“But we then responded with a couple of points of our own before half time and that made all the difference.”
Rogers warned his colleagues that there was no time for resting on their laurels and that they must refocus when they return to training tomorrow night.
“We’ve won nothing tangible yet, just a game of football and we cannot afford to lose sight of that. In the past nobody would have accused us of being a hard-working team, but that’s all changed,” he said.
“In this game you make your own luck by giving 100per cent and we now have a squad of players, not just a team of 15 but a number of players capable of coming off the bench and doing a job.”
Rogers' caution is understandable for two seasons ago Down knocked Tyrone out of the Ulster championship after a replay only to lose to Wexford in the qualifiers in Croke Park.
Ironically that same year Mickey Harte’s men regrouped, made their way through the qualifiers before lifting Sam Maguire for the third time.
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, D Gordon, D Rafferty, D Rooney, K McKernan, C Garvey, A Rogers (0-2, 1 '45), K King, D Hughes, M Poland (1-2, 0-1f), P McComiskey (0-2), B Coulter (0-3), J Clarke, M Clarke (0-4, 2f, 1 '45). Subs: C Maginn (0-1) for J Clarke, R Murtagh (0-1) for McComiskey, B McArdle for Rooney, P Fitzpatrick (0-1) for King, R Sexton for Poland
Kerry: B Kealy, M O Se, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan, A O'Mahony, M McCarthy, K Young, S Scanlon, M Quirke, Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh, C Cooper (0-7 (5f), K Donaghy, B Sheehan (0-3, 1f, 1 '45). Subs: D Moran (1-0, pen) for Quirke, BJ Keane for Scanlon, K O'Leary for Darran O'Sullivan, A O'Connell for O'Mahony, D Bohan for Young, A Maher for Sheehan
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)