Walshe: 'Being from a small county is not an excuse'
It’s about the size of the fight in the dog, insists Monaghan stalwart Colin Walshe ahead of home clash with Dublin
Last year's census put the population of Monaghan at 61,273. Another way of putting it is that you could evacuate the county, put every soul they claim into Croke Park and the Cusack Stand would still be close to empty.
Drawing comparisons between population figures of counties is an overly simplistic measure. But when Dublin come to town, the difference is too stark to ignore.
Just as well then that Monaghan are all about the size of the fight in the dog. They'll bring the Dublin juggernaut up to Clones on Sunday and set about having it up on blocks by the time they head for home.
They'll give themselves a chance too because why wouldn't they? They've already won in Kerry and Mayo and managed a draw in Donegal. And depending on how things go this weekend, they could still find themselves in a league final.
Pound for pound, it's hard to make a case for anyone pulling more from themselves than Monaghan. And even if the odds are stacked against them in many ways ahead of this weekend, Farney defender Colin Walshe won't be looking for excuses afterwards.
"Resources are something that you could always look at in GAA, but why can a small rural club compete against a big town club when they don't have the same numbers resources-wise?
"I know Dublin have massive resources and playing population. But at the same time they can only put 15 on the field and play with 21 on a given day. At the minute we wouldn't be looking too closely at Dublin, we kind of worry about our own lot and getting the best of ourselves. And, in fairness, the U-21 players who won Ulster last year are coming through. So we are trying to keep building.
"You are never going to get to that level with Dublin with a massive population. Even working up there you can see the playing numbers and the size of squads with juvenile teams. They have ten or 12 teams at U-12s. You'll never compete with that.
"But at the same time there will always be a drop-off in players. I knew players playing in college, top-class players but they are not getting near the Dublin squad even. You just have to worry about your own lot and how best to take your own resources."
Off the field, Monaghan's house is in order. They have used three top-class venues for home league matches this term in Inniskeen, Clones and Castleblayney. They have also developed their training centre at Cloghan. All the while, the team have kept building. Successive league titles were annexed in '13 and '14 and - with the exception of Dublin - they've beaten all of the top teams since they returned to the top flight. Crucially, two Ulster crowns were tagged on too.
Walshe says the squad want for nothing. Such unquestioning backing from the Monaghan public demands, at the very least, Walshe says, an honesty of effort.
"The players, we are very grateful for how we are looked after. And it has defiantly improved an awful lot in the last few years. That's mainly down to the sponsors and a lot of companies, good Monaghan people, being very supportive and putting funding in.
"That's something you are very conscious of when you go out. You don't take it for granted. There's a lot of things where we are very well looked after. We know at the end of the day we are only playing football but these people are putting in their hard-earned money. They're investing in us."
The Doomhamlet man is hoping to shake off a hamstring injury to play this weekend. The 2013 All-Star picked up the problem in the win in Killarney but given that he carried on in an All-Ireland quarter-final against the Dubs with a damaged cruciate, he'll play given half the chance. They lost heavily that day but twice in recent seasons they have pushed the Dubs to just a point. Dublin won both last year's league clash and the semi-final showdown of 2015 by the minimum. Still, pushing them hard and tipping them over the edge are two very different propositions.
"We put them to the pin of their collars on those two league outings but we never managed to see it out. That's happened a few teams against Dublin, they are particularly good at closing out a game when they empty their bench.
"The thing I notice about them is they don't make too many mistakes at that end of the game. They go for it, and their handling doesn't go from them or their decision-making.
"Sometimes with other teams they start to get tired and they have worked that hard to keep themselves in the game and give themselves a real good chance in the last five or ten minutes that sometimes they let themselves down making a basic pass or maybe someone didn't make a run.
"But Dublin, no matter what minute it is, they just keep churning away and grind it out that way."
Conor McManus kicked an incredible 20 points across those two near misses with Dublin. Jack McCarron has emerged to take some of the scoring onus from him this season but Walshe believes McManus would carry the can for any team in the country.
"He led the line and he does lead the line and he is the main man. And people would put the tag on us that we're a one-man team. But if any team had him in their forward line the same label could be put on them as well because he is that top-end player. And there is only one or two in the country that is on his level."
Had things turned out differently, it might have been Walshe leading the line up front. As a child, he was the proud owner of a Kerry jersey and it was Mike Frank Russell that caught his eye. Indeed his first appearance in a Monaghan jersey came at half-time in the Monaghan-Down Ulster Championship clash of 2003.
Monaghan had beaten reigning All-Ireland champions Armagh in the first round and the county was buzzing with optimism. They were beaten that day but all Walshe remembers is his run-out.
"I scored 2-1 in that half-time game," he smiles. "I have a photo on the wall at home of it."
An All-Star corner-back in 2013, He's been shifted out to the half-back line this term, perhaps on the back of the point he kicked to keep Monaghan in the top flight last year. "Look at Philly McMahon, he scores regularly, nearly two points a game for Dublin, yet he is one of the top corner-backs in the country at the same time so it's something you have to be able to do."
There are still milestones to be hit. After losing three All-Ireland quarter-finals, a win in Croke Park at the business end of things would be one box to tick. But defeat to Longford last year, a county one third smaller than Monaghan, was a reminder of how quickly things can go south.
Walshe offers no explanation for that shock. He remembers only Brian Kavanagh's radar being on. There were no excuses. And even with record-breaking Dublin in town, there'll be no excuses on Sunday evening either should they lose.
"We are probably defying the odds being one of the smallest counties and being able to compete. But I wouldn't like to count it as an excuse on a county's behalf that because they have small playing population that they are not competing."