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Darragh Ó Sé: When you’re on the wrong end of a hammering, it can feel like trying to keep the tide out

Every player has experienced what happened to Monaghan in Killarney last Saturday, the sort of nightmare you can’t wake up from

I went to Killarney on Saturday and watched a game that did nobody any good. Monaghan were so bad they brought Kerry down with them. It was one of those games where the team handing out the hammering couldn’t get themselves out of second gear because the opposition weren’t offering anything for them to go after.

At one stage early on, Rory Beggan and Conor McManus were playing the ball over and back to each other in the Monaghan full-back line after a kick-out. Even if you took no notice of the scoreboard, when something like that is happening you know the whole thing is upside down. Whatever preparation Monaghan did in the last six weeks, you can be fairly sure none of it involved a game plan that had McManus being last man back on their own kick-out.

But that’s the sort of thing that can happen when your team is on the wrong end of a hiding. We’ve all been there. In real time, it feels like a sort of a nightmare that you know you can’t wake up from no matter how hard you try. You can’t shake yourself out of it. There’s nothing you can do only pass the time until it’s over.

You get into a battle with your own head. The most public hammering I was ever on the receiving end of was when Meath gave us the mother and father of beatings in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2001. I remember standing on the pitch in Croke Park at one stage and thinking, “Christ, we’re going to get some hosing from people when we get back to Kerry.”


Tight games don’t give you that thinking time. The whole point of doing your training is that you’ve done all your thinking before the ball is thrown in. Once you’re in it, you’re too busy focusing on the million small things that go to make up the 70 minutes. You need your real time reactions to situations to be totally tuned in, with no thought of the bigger picture at all.

When you’re in the middle of a game that’s going point-for-point, your mind is in overdrive but it is zeroing in on every tiny bit of the game, second by second. Your concentration is uniform. Your full attention goes to the next ball, the next kick-out, your position on the pitch, your team-mates’ positions, what sort of mood the referee is in, what wind is there, who’s on a yellow and everything else that’s going on.

But when you’re being beaten in so many different positions, everything changes. Your mind starts to wander. You start thinking far more macro than micro. You go from worrying about each tiny little thing to wallowing in the overall situation. The whole thing becomes too big in your head – and in reality too, for that matter. You can keep plugging away but at a certain point you may as well be trying to keep the tide out.

There’s no turning it around at that stage. There’s no saving face. In a tight game, if you make a mistake you can knuckle down and reset. But when you’re getting trounced, there’s no resetting. Even the good things you do can feel dispiriting.

That day against Meath in 2001, Séamus Moynihan was the only one of us that came out with any respectability intact. He played to his standard and won his battle. But because the rest of us came nowhere near reaching our standard, he was left high and dry.

And it got to the stage whereby even if one of us raised a gallop and went and scored a point, there was nothing to celebrate. It was as if the crowd were going, “Well, you scored a point – what about it? Ye’re 15 points behind here.” You’re standing there, abandoned. And you’ve nobody to blame but yourself.

The aftermath of a hammering is brutal. The only thing you can think about is the one thing you don’t want to think about – trying to get an answer as to why this happened. You didn’t expect it. You didn’t even consider it as an outcome. You knew the game would be tough and you weren’t cocky or anything. But in all the scenarios you built up beforehand, being beaten by a cricket score never came into your head.

Any time I was on a team that got thrashed like that for club or county, it made the reaction very important. You had to come away from it going, “right, when we get a chance again, we’re going to fix this”. In 2002, we came back and played some of our best football for Kerry. We lost the All-Ireland final to Armagh but all in all, we had a fairly good season and we got the hosing from Meath out of our system. To some extent, anyway.

You could look at Monaghan’s situation and say they are lucky in one way because they don’t have to wait until next year to try and fix this. They have two games left in the group, against Louth and Meath. If they have anything about them at all, they need to regroup now and give a better show of themselves.

My worry for them, though, is that they’ve gone back so far. They haven’t won a game since January and you can see why. It’s very hard to square the team that only scored two points in the first half last Saturday with the one that was level with the Dubs with 10 minutes to go in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. They’ve taken a few beatings in the league and some of their younger players look very raw for this level of football.

Turning that situation around is a massive task. I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt like getting the season over and done with as quickly as possible.