When Dan Gordon decided to take a break from football during the course of the National League there were many in Down who thought that they might not see the Loughinisland man in the famous red and black jersey again.
Gordon’s decision to slip into the shadows for personal reasons disappointed manager James McCartan but when promotion to the top bracket was assured the Down boss applied himself more fervently to his Ulster Championship build-up.
And when Down pocketed a win against Donegal at Ballybofey in their opening Championship assignment the seeds of optimism were sown.
That optimism was spawned further when Gordon rather surprisingly returned to the squad and proved a central figure in the early blitz launched on Tyrone in the provincial semi-final before Mickey Harte’s side cut short the Mournemen’s extravagant bid for glory.
If provincial title success eluded them, Down thundered into the qualifiers with wins over Longford, Offaly and Sligo — and in each match Gordon was a hero in the unlikely position of full-back having in past years soldiered feverishly at midfield and revelled as a target man on the edge of the opposition square.
Tomorrow Gordon faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career when we he will go head-to-head with Kerry full-forward Kieran Donaghy in an individual battle that could well determine the outcome of what should be a fascinating Croke Park quarter-final.
It’s perhaps fortunate that manager McCartan had the vision and indeed courage to reinvent a player regarded as the mainstay of the midfield area for so long.
“In the modern game, the element of flexibility is very pronounced and I suppose we are thankful that Dan has been doing so well at full-back,” reckons McCartan.
“We had big defensive injury worries at the start of the Ulster Championship and Daniel McCartan was suspended then, so it was a case of must do being a good master.”
It has not been all plain sailing, of course.
In the early stages against Offaly, McCartan looked on in bewilderment as the midlanders led the Down defence a merry dance.
“I did not quite know where to start plugging the dykes,” admitted McCartan afterwards.
But thanks to a splendid performance by Gordon, Down won before going on to leave Sligo’s season in debris last weekend.
Now Kerry are on the menu tomorrow and McCartan knows that Donaghy in particular poses a massive threat to his team’s well-being.
“We are going in against the best in the business but then this is where you want to be at this time of the year,” says McCartan.
“Dan Gordon will have a job to do tomorrow as will every other player.
“If the team clicks we have a chance. You certainly don’t thrive in Croke Park if only a handful of players perform but we know what we have to do as a unit.”