Thursday 19 October 2017

Monaghan patience and discipline helps put one over on old rivals

Conor McManus fires in the only goal of the game in Monaghan’s victory over Cavan. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor McManus fires in the only goal of the game in Monaghan’s victory over Cavan. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

With an agricultural venom underpinning every contest, a ferocious rivalry has always existed between Cavan and Monaghan.

Monaghan lost a particularly fractious league encounter in 2013, on a sodden Saturday night in Kingspan Breffni. I know because I was there, in the middle of it.

Both sides had a number of players sent off, and there was no shortage of verbals thrown about. A few of the new Cavan kids on the block took every opportunity to let some of us elder, and seemingly 'finished' protagonists know the score.

The following week at training, when reviewing the match, Malachy O'Rourke got Pat McEnaney in to focus on our ill-discipline that largely cost us the game.

"Dick, I honestly have no idea how you stayed on the pitch," Pat candidly remarked, as a highlight reel of my misdemeanours was displayed on the big screen.

Outburst

A spontaneous outburst of laughter amongst the group was quickly quelled.

Our passion for beating our neighbours could never again be an acceptable excuse for dropping our discipline standards.

A patient victory over them, en route to an Ulster title later that summer, stood testament to that conviction. That same measured determination was abundantly evident again yesterday.

Yet regardless of what Monaghan have done to Cavan in recent years, a sharp reference to the glory days of the 1940s & '50s always gives them the upper hand in any battle for bragging rights.

'Ye couldn't listen to them,' is a common phrase uttered by many a Monaghan supporter.

I was only eight or nine years of age when I first found myself in the company of Tony Tighe.

Tall and statesmanlike in demeanour, he carried the poise and articulation more typical of an altogether different place.

A. Tighe, of Cavan GAA and Polo Grounds fame, shared the same corner in the Clones Golf Club changing room as my father.

As I would get my junior clubs out of Dad's locker on a Saturday morning, myself and Tony would occasionally cross paths.

Sadly, I didn't fully appreciate who exactly I was in the presence of all those years ago.

As time went on, and my interest in all things GAA grew steadily, I quickly came to learn of the feats of Tony and his legendary team-mates.

John Joe Reilly, Mick Higgins, Phil 'Gunner' Brady and PJ Duke are names that still echo across every GAA ground and bar in Cavan, from an era still revered as if it was yesterday.

Travelling yesterday to Kingspan Breffni (now that the 'Park' has been lost), I had an uncomfortable feeling of apprehension. All the recent Monaghan hype didn't sit well with me.

I feared yesterday might be the day that these young Cavan footballers would finally come out from under the shadows of those former greats. A day they might finally make a significant mark on the Ulster Championship, having failed to do so in recent years, despite much talk and promise.

At times, this narrative threatened to be realised. Thankfully, in the end, and for the third time in recent years, Monaghan edged a keenly-contested game, with Conor McManus proving the difference.

Cometh the hour and all that, he again showed his worth to Monaghan football, and justified his tag as one of Ireland's top inside forwards.

In recent times I have come to recognise that my hostility towards my neighbours in large part stems from an envy of their glorious past and tradition.

Acknowledgement that in my lifetime, my own county will struggle to ever have the upper hand in any bar-stool struggles for superiority. And so what, I guess.

Parochial rivalries that survive passing generations are in many ways the lifeblood of our games. It is what encouraged tens of thousands of supporters to brave the elements in Cavan and Salthill yesterday. To watch the great rivalries unfold, and the modern-day heroes in full flight.

Following the sudden passing of Tony Tighe a few years back, renowned poet and playwright Tom McIntyre poignantly recounted a memorable encounter as a young schoolboy, with his then hero on the streets of his hometown Bailieborough.

I wish I could revisit one of those Saturday-morning encounters with Tony, a few years older and better informed. I'd ask him to recount some stories from a time when he was part of a group of men that dominated the Ulster GAA landscape like no team has ever done, or are likely to do again.

Cavan's GAA headquarters is one of my favourite grounds. There is never a dull atmosphere and there is a sense of tradition and mystique from those halcyon days of Breffni glory.

Cavan will always own the past, and with such a passionate support and unrivalled tradition, someday they may again have a prominent future. Thankfully Monaghan focus on neither, and have nothing else on their minds but to achieve in the present.

Yesterday made only a small impression on the all-time balance of power between the rival counties.

Whether Monaghan can go on and capture the greatest prize and finally stand toe to toe with our rural counterparts remains to be seen.

A likely Ulster final against Tyrone or Donegal will be the first true test of these credentials.

McManus, Monaghan's hero yesterday, will be key to that challenge. At this stage, an All-Ireland title is all that sets him apart from Tighe, Duke, O'Reilly and the greats of Cavan.

Irish Independent

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