Monday 19 March 2018

'I caught Paul Galvin with a right hook Conor McGregor would have been proud of' - Dick Clerkin on how to upset Kerry

Paul Galvin in action against Monaghan in 2007, Dick Clerkin (right) booked in the same game and (left) Conor McGregor
Paul Galvin in action against Monaghan in 2007, Dick Clerkin (right) booked in the same game and (left) Conor McGregor
Dick Clerkin: 2007. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Monaghan's Croke Park post-mortems, sadly becoming an all-too-common pastime, often recall memories of our 2007 quarter-final clash with Kerry.

Rank outsiders, against one of the great teams in Gaelic football history, we came within a hair's breadth of pulling off one of the biggest shocks of all time.

Watching back the highlights on a sketchy YouTube clip, I still get a tingling sense of 'what if?' Considering recent disappointments, this still ranks as Monaghan's best quarter-final performance by some distance. So what could a 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final involving Monaghan possibly have to do with Mayo's chances of beating Kerry this weekend? More than you might think.

If Mayo have been guilty of one thing when it comes to playing the big teams, it is showing them too much respect.

When their backs are against the walls they will fight like lions, but at times they lack a hard, ruthless edge, and too often they allow the opposition dictate the terms of engagement.

Kerry, on the other hand, will stamp their air of superiority on their opponents given half a chance. In 2007, that was one thing we were not going to let happen.

When it comes to attacking a team's strength, the Kerry lads love to talk about how they would always 'hammer the hammer'. Well, that day back in 2007 we hammered every hammer, nail and anything else coloured green and gold that came our way.

The Mone brothers, Dessie and JP, harassed Gooch and Star to near submission. Rory Woods danced a bullish foxtrot around Aidan O'Mahony, and Tommy Freeman and Ciarán Hanratty, with balls raining in all afternoon, tortured the Kerry full-back line.

The overly robust reputation I struggled to cast off during my career was largely forged in this game.

I won't lie to you, that day it was simply a case of getting a glove on as many Kerry men as I could, to knock them off their stride and not impose themselves on the game.

In one instance, shortly into the second half, going in for a tackle I caught Paul Galvin with a right hook Conor McGregor would have been proud of. Staggering off moments later, Paul would never forgive me for that one. Hammer the hammer!

Out around the middle third, every kick-out was fiercely contested. Short kick-outs were a thing of the future back then, and at every opportunity we crashed into the high-flying Kerry fielders, with a view to engaging in a ground warfare we knew we could match or better.

The last 15 minutes of the game, was the most electric any Monaghan team have every experienced in Croke Park.

Waterford and Limerick supporters started filling the ground ahead of the hurling semi-final to follow. Played at small-ball intensity they got behind the underdogs, and all of a sudden we were leading Kerry down the home straight, with 60,000 strong cheering us on. Just when they thought the impossible was about to happen, enter the brothers ó Sé.

Regardless of the era, whenever I sit down to pick the greatest team of all time, Darragh, Tomas and Marc ó Sé will always be on it. Cut from their own cloth, never were their immense leadership traits more needed by Kerry than in those closing stages.

With ten minutes to go, Marc pulled off a goal-denying block on a Tommy Freeman effort. Darragh started pulling balls out of the sky, having lost the ground war for the preceding hour. Tomas drove forward at every opportunity, setting up the equaliser and fisting over what proved to be the eventual winner.

I have faced many teams and players over the years that gradually wilted in the face of our aggression. It seemed to merely energise these guys. David Coldrick's final act before blowing the final whistle was to give me my justifiable marching orders for a second yellow card.

We bravely jabbed and countered all afternoon, but with no knockout punch in our locker-room, we were eventually beaten on points by the seasoned pros!

Mayo are a better and more seasoned team than we were then, and this Kerry team wouldn't lace the boots of the ó Sé's et al. So there is no reason on earth why Mayo should fear Kerry next weekend. From the throw-in, Mayo need to bring a ferocious intensity.

Prevent Kerry getting into any sort of rhythm, especially around the midfield where David Moran cannot be allowed to rule the skies like he did in Limerick back in 2014.

I am still not convinced about this Kerry team, especially at the back. With few links back to that great team of the noughties, Kerry can't call on the leadership of the ó Sé brothers to get them out of a hole any more.

Mayo have to put them in one first before that matters, and be prepared to do whatever it takes to put them there. I look back on that day in 2007 wondering how different things would have been, had we held on and broken that glass ceiling that has since remained intact.

That is consigned to barstool talk now, whilst Mayo still have the opportunity to face up to their own glass ceiling once more.

A championship victory over Kerry could very well be the key to finally breaking it.


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