Monday 19 February 2018

Dick Clerkin: Sean Quigley's pizza talk would have been a red rag to the Ballybay bull Drew Wylie

Monaghan’s Drew Wylie gave Sean Quigley a chastening 50 minutes before the Fermanagh man was subbed off on Saturday night. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Monaghan’s Drew Wylie gave Sean Quigley a chastening 50 minutes before the Fermanagh man was subbed off on Saturday night. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

During the 'Banty' McEnaney era in Monaghan, we listened to many of the significant managers from the modern era. As motivational speakers on team weekends away, everyone from John O'Mahony to Brian Cody and Sean Boylan took to the stage to impart their words of wisdom.

Yet few have resonated with me as much as the late Eamonn Coleman from Derry. In 2006, Banty had him around for a few weeks ahead of our Ulster Championship opener against Armagh. "Even on your worst day, your worst day, you can always run and tackle." In the roughest of Derry accents, I can still hear him say it now. I never forgot these words and in many ways they have become the hallmark of Monaghan football ever since.

Last Thursday night I attended Fermanagh's Club Eirne pre-championship night in Enniskillen. Joined by Oisín McConville, Enda McGinley and Fermanagh great Peter McGinnity, a nervous pessimism was evident ahead of the hosts' contest with Monaghan on Saturday night.


A threadbare, largely inexperienced Fermanagh team had just been announced to face a formidable Monaghan line-up in Clones. Unusual for the modern era of media blackouts, Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath then joined us for the final half-hour.

Pete spoke of a "steely determination" among his panel. He also spoke to us a few years back, and similar to last Thursday evening one couldn't but be taken by his optimism and passion for the challenge that lay ahead.

Yet underneath the optimistic veneer, most Fermanagh patrons in the room knew deep down they hadn't the sufficient ingredients to challenge Monaghan.

I have no doubt Pete had prepared his players as well as he could over the past five weeks.

Unfortunately for him, this Monaghan team have been preparing for the past five years, and their determination is real.

From start to finish, both Monaghan and Fermanagh ran and tackled across a rain-slicked St Tiernach's Park, just like Eamonn Coleman intended. While at times the quality was sub-standard, the effort never dipped.

The eventual gulf between the teams could well be summarised by the contest between Drew Wylie and Sean Quigley.

Sean revealed a few years back that he has the occasional pizza after training, intimating that his talent was sufficient currency for an inter-county existence.

As a player who has had to sharpen that talent over years of commitment and sacrifice, this would have been a red rag to Monaghan's Ballybay bull. Limping off after a chastening 50 minutes, Quigley will join a growing list of full-forwards not wanting to encounter the Monaghan full-back any time soon.

Back in 2012, Monaghan suffered a crushing defeat to Down in an Ulster semi-final. Having dominated the first-half, we went on to give up a nine-point lead. I pulled a last-gasp chance wide to equalise. One of the few positives was Drew Wylie's performance.

After an uncertain apprenticeship, Drew announced himself on the inter-county stage with an accomplished performance.

Putting my personal disappointment aside, I texted Drew the next day to congratulate him on his performance.

"Don't look back and make that jersey your own for the next 10 years," read the text still residing on my phone. Five years on, he won't be giving that jersey up any time soon.

As player who has fully committed himself to a journey of self-improvement, Drew personifies Monaghan football, in the same way as many of his team-mates. Tossing Quigley aside, the mild-mannered man from Ballybay further strengthened his reputation.

A central pillar of Monaghan's defence, Drew is as important a player to Monaghan now as Conor McManus.

Further north, Donegal beat Antrim in a similarly predictable manner. Neither team will have answered the overriding question in terms of establishing genuine All-Ireland credentials.

Those questions weren't on the exam paper this weekend. They will in all likelihood come in August. Whatever about the relevance of their respective fixtures, both teams displayed enough quality to suggest they will be in the bowl as one of the Super 8s.

Neither Monaghan's nor Drew's reputation will have been enhanced from what were largely predictable outcomes against Fermanagh.

Changed times indeed from when a victory against Fermanagh was heralded; the only question that anyone wants answered now is whether Monaghan can add enough to their game to be considered genuine All-Ireland contenders this summer.

In a game similar to last year's opener against Down, Monaghan mixed the bad with the good against Fermanagh.

'Slow, lateral and inaccurate' was eventually replaced with 'fast, direct and clinical'. Too often in Croke Park, Monaghan have shown too much of the former. Looking ahead, they can't rely on teams to wilt. Better teams won't wilt like Fermanagh did. As Eamonn Coleman implored all those years ago, Monaghan will always run and tackle. It is in their DNA.

However, with natural scorers in the Mansie, Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy, getting them the ball in the shooting zone faster has to be a priority. Doing so could turn Monaghan into genuine summer contenders.

Irish Independent

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