Winning title has taken pressure off us – Dessie Mone
Monaghan ace relishing chance to take on Tyrone in new Attacking role
Published 12/06/2014 | 02:30
Dessie Mone laughs about it now. Rewind to half-time in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final and he and Conor Gormley are having an open and frank exchange of views.
No one was for backing down. Suddenly hands fly and Mone appears to hit himself in the face.
"Funnily enough, I don't think I would do that to myself," he smiles ahead of a renewal of rivalries with Tyrone in the Ulster Championship on Sunday.
"What happens, happens. It's all done in a flash. You can't look back and hold it against anyone. You have to move forward and that's what I have done. There's never any bad blood when you meet the players.
"When two Ulster teams meet, we know each other well and we know what buttons to press. It's all part and parcel of it and you leave it on the pitch. We're big enough men to do that. You just get on with it."
If Monaghan and the Red Hands have been engaged in a running battle, then Monaghan have been going backwards for some time now when it comes to their exchanges.
Even when they were making quantum leaps under Seamus McEnaney, Tyrone were the team that they just couldn't rein in.
Of the last five meetings, Tyrone won three by just two points. In fact, their winning run against the Farney men stretches back to 1988.
"You can't hide from that," says Mone, who was on hand to launch the new range of Gaelic Performance children's county gloves, the company run by his brother JP and another former Monaghan footballer Dermot McArdle.
"Back in 2007, we probably came across a Tyrone team who were at the peak of their game. But times have moved on and that team has moved on. We have new players and they might not have experienced that – maybe only five or six of them, I'd say.
"The young players have their own mindset, which is a good thing."
Their meetings are rarely boring – last year, Sean Cavanagh's tackle on Conor McManus helped prompt the introduction of the black card – but the dynamic is different.
Monaghan are Ulster champions now and, in the spring, won a league title for the second successive year.
Mone's role has also changed. Released from his regular assignment of shutting down opposition danger men, he has been given more leash.
Malachy O'Rourke recognised something in the Clontibret man and shifted him out to the half-back line and charged him with creating overlaps and taking scores.
It's a role that is incongruous with the image that has built up around him in recent years, but it's one he has relished.
That he has flourished in his new role probably shouldn't be that much of a surprise. With Monaghan underage teams, he was used primarily as an inside forward with a reputation for creating and taking scores, rather than preventing them.
"Probably Malachy put faith in me. I usually played in the half-back line for my club and he probably saw it there. He tried me out there a few times for Monaghan and, luckily enough, it worked out for me and I got up the field and put the ball over the bar the odd time," Mone says.
"I'm definitely enjoying my football. I probably looked at the way I was playing and said: 'How can I improve'? I knew myself that I probably needed improvement."
Last year, he was nominated for an All Star for his role in helping the Farney to a first Ulster title in a quarter of a century.
It was a remarkable achievement, considering he spent much of the year training on his own in London as he finished off a degree.
This year, the commute from UL has been more manageable as he completed his training as a PE teacher.
"That comes with a bit of maturity. The game is evolving and you'll be found out on the pitch quick enough if your fitness levels aren't up there," he says.
"Lucky enough, I kept disciplined in London and in Limerick. I did my own training and kept my fitness up. You are meeting people from other codes and you're getting ideas from them, too."
The first defence of an Ulster title in 25 years starts now, but Mone insists the pressure is off Monaghan now.
Having grown up watching his brothers JP and Fergal toil for Monaghan for so long with little reward, he has a strong sense of perspective.
The county will, he says, draw confidence from last year with the knowledge they can swim in the deep end.
"It was definitely a big weight of the shoulders. It was 25 years since Monaghan last won. We always came so close. We just probably couldn't get the rub of the green or just get over that line. We probably feel we can play a bit more football now, play the football that we like to play.
"We are probably not as much under pressure now. People probably think we are more under pressure, but we can start playing football the way we want."