Monaghan’s physicality isn’t about playing dirty, it’s just in their football DNA
They threw the kitchen sink at Donegal and they will do the same against Tyrone
Monaghan’s Vincent Corey battles with Donegal’s Michael Murphy during the Ulster senior football final. Photograph: William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho
When Monaghan were making shapes at a breakthrough back in 2007 and 2008, I had a good enough relationship with them – even if it might not have always looked that way. I got on well with Banty McEnaney who, in fairness, always had a great sense of humour and was always up for some sort of mischief.
One winter around then, Banty rang me up saying he had a proposal for me. Monaghan had a big fund-raising drive on the go and one of the events they had lined up was a white-collar boxing night. Myself and Dick Clerkin had had a couple of run-ins over the course of those games and Banty’s big idea was that the main event of the evening would be Dick and I going at it for three rounds.
Well now, I have to say I was disappointed in Banty. I thought he was a more intelligent fella than that. Did he really think I was going to leave Dick train away for six weeks before toddling up there to Monaghan to be absolutely decorated inside in the ring? Give me some bit of credit. I’d be thick enough the odd time but there was no way I was putting my hand up for that one. I laughed it out of town.
Monaghan were always one of those teams you had to steel yourself for. When we played them in Croke Park those two years back-to-back, there was no mystery as to what we were going to face. We knew they were going to be very physical, we knew we were going to take a battering.
Pat O’Shea had us well ready that first year. Don’t get involved, don’t overreact. This had to be rope-a-dope stuff. We had to keep our discipline and remember that there was 70 minutes to play. It was always going to be squeaky-bum time coming near the end and that’s when we’d have that bit more experience and patience going for us.
We knew as well that even if they’d had somebody sent off, it wouldn’t really have knocked too much out of them. They had a seriously hard edge and every one of their players were committed to it. It’s wasn’t as if they were carrying a few lads as luxuries – right the way up to Tommy Freeman in the corner, they had players who would run and tackle and fight all day.
They were an impressive bunch. They reminded me a bit of the Meath team of the 1980s – you’d hate playing against them but it wasn’t as if they were just a band of hitmen going out and causing havoc.
They were well able to play football as well and the way they mixed physicality with ability made them so hard to beat. We knew that once we got over them in 2007, we were meeting Dublin seriously battle-hardened.
Monaghan’s one real weakness back then was a lack of depth. Because they had such a committed bunch of players, with every man throwing the kitchen sink at it from the first minute, they were always going to need players off the bench near the end. And they just didn’t have the quality to bring on. That isn’t the case this time around.