Ulster can wait as nail-biting success is enjoyed for now

 

National Football League Division Two final: How does it feel? He's just led Monaghan to their most dramatic and memorable victory in 20 years and that's all we can ask Séamus McEnaney. How does it feel?

"Well these bunch of lads have made it really hard for me all year," he says, standing in the middle of a Monaghan dressingroom that resembles a New Year's Eve party. And it's not even four o'clock in the afternoon.

"They gave me the frights against Longford, and again against Derry last Sunday. But I knew they'd play until the bitter end. I felt it was going to come down to the last couple of minutes, and thankfully, it fell the right way for us. But we did have a goal chance or two a few minutes earlier, so maybe we did deserve it."

The prize probably didn't deserve such a nail-biting contest, and yet McEnaney knows the value of winning the Division Two title going into the championship. Especially for his first year as manager. "It's all about confidence. And this team is definitely growing in confidence. The Ulster championship is for tomorrow, maybe even next week. But I think the people of Monaghan have realised that this team is putting the commitment in."

One of the stars of the day, Paul Finlay, was naturally delighted. "I'd never seen anything like it, so many Monaghan supporters shouting for us like that. I know we're meeting at 12.0 tomorrow to set our goals for the championship, so we'll enjoy this one for now. But we'll be in great form going into it. This is a national title, and we're delighted with it.

"All I can say about Séamus is he brings incredible heart and passion to the whole scene. I don't think I've ever met a truer Monaghan GAA man. He'd die for it. He's got his big businesses in Monaghan but I think he spends all his time thinking about football. So he has to take great credit for what's happened here, along with his three selectors."

Captain Damien Freeman described it as the proudest day of his life; "We set ourselves the task of promotion this year, and achieved that easily. Then we beat Derry when no one gave us a chance. But to come here and win in Croke Park, where it all happens, is a dream come true for everyone on this panel.

"And I know Monaghan have gone way too long without winning anything. And hopefully this is only the start of this team. But right now we've got a lot of celebrating to catch up on."

As ever Seán Boylan was gracious in defeat, but even in his 23 years of management it would be hard to recall a game with such a cruel twist. "That's why it's called football, lads," he says with a smile. "I've certainly been around long enough to know that. It was a hell of a game, and I'm sorry we didn't get another crack. But never, never underestimate Monaghan. We saw what they did against Derry last week, knew what they were capable of, and knew they would never give up."