Monaghan savouring the sweet taste of success
Celebrations continuing around the county as All-Ireland champions Donegal prepare for their qualifier against Laois
Monaghan’s Vincent Corey put the shackles on Donegal danger man Michael Murphy in Sunday’s Ulster senior football final at Clones. Photo: William Cherry/Inpho/Presseye
The latest seismic shift in fortunes and jolting realignment of the championship has left both Monaghan and Donegal with unexpectedly immediate challenges – although of a very different sort.
Monaghan’s first Ulster football title since 1988 may have been won on home ground at Clones, but that didn’t stop them organising an impromptu homecoming. Starting with a civic reception in Monaghan town last night, the Anglo-Celt Cup was paraded around the county with stop-offs that included Castleblaney and Ballybay and it could be a while before manager Malachy O’Rourke restores some sense of calm ahead of their All-Ireland quarter-final in a fortnight. .
Donegal however have no time to lose and have already begun the six-day countdown to their fourth round qualifier against Laois, confirmed for Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday evening (5.0). Manager Jim McGuinness will almost certainly be without Mark McHugh due to the suspected concussion he sustained early on in Sunday’s 0-13 to 0-7 defeat, and McHugh’s absence may well prove every bit as glaring as it did against Monaghan.
All recent beaten Ulster finalists also have a poor record when it comes to playing the fourth round of the qualifiers just six days after losing their provincial final. Congress has agreed that from next year such teams will, wherever possible, be given 13 days before playing again in the qualifiers, and while Down did survive for another day after losing last year’s final, that bucked the trend, and Donegal will be acutely aware of it.
Donegal have never played Laois in the championship before either. Laois are looking to record their eighth successive qualifier win and book a place in an All-Ireland quarter-final for a second successive year.
For Monaghan there is at least some time to soak up the glorious aftermath of Sunday’s victory, and for veterans such as Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay it’s been so long coming that they often wondered would it ever come at all.
Clerkin, unbeknownst to almost everyone except himself, actually made his 150th appearance for Monaghan on Sunday – although he’s a little more open to talk about it now.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to say anything going into the game, in case I didn’t even get a run, but I would never have thought that landmark would have gone so well,” says Clerkin.
Yet like most of Monaghan’s so-called veterans, he’s looked into that lonely mirror often in the past and wondered had the time come to move on.
“Especially after last year, and how things had gone since 2010. But even the most optimistic of Monaghan supporters would never think that this could be achieved, and the fashion in which we did against the All-Ireland champions.
“Bit by bit, this year, Malachy O’Rourke came in, and started winning games, getting the confidence up, and younger players were coming through and growing game by game. The likes of Pádraig Donaghy. There is a new generation of footballers that have come on the scene now. Those lads were superb, the likes of Colin Walshe, Kieran Hughes, this is their team now and I am just so happy that I managed to get what we set out for so long ago, that at the tail end of my career I could be part of it.”
Yet Monaghan’s victory was carefully planned, focusing on their own strengths, and more importantly Donegal’s weaknesses: “We spent the last two weeks watching Donegal, in their previous two games, and saw their weaknesses. They don’t like playing against their own system and we knew that going in. Whether we would get the scores at the other end that was the question we had to answer and the way we did it probably surprised ourselves.”
Monaghan’s victory also killed the theory that Division Three teams had no chance against those enjoying top-flight football: “We were in Division Three, but we were winning games and that was something we had not been doing in the previous few years. That’s 16 competitive games we have played this year and we have won 13 of them.”
Finlay too, who turned 30 earlier this year, often wondered if his time had come and gone – having made his championship debut against Armagh back in 2003.”Sure you start to have doubts, and wonder are you good enough, is the team good enough. I also felt there was a brave pool of players there. It would have been easy for a lot of fellas to walk away after giving such long service. It just shows that if you stick at it and give a lot of hard work something good can come from it.”
Not that the Monaghan revival of 2013 is finished yet: “Absolutely not,” says Finlay, “and why would it? But this is what Monaghan craved for over the last few years, an Anglo Celt Cup. This is what we’ll enjoy over the next few days before we start thinking of an All-Ireland quarter-final.”