DURING last year’s Division 2 final, Eamon McGee found himself the butt of a Monaghan man’s joke.
Monaghan were on their way to victory and McGee felt the brunt. “The gist of it was that we couldn’t get near them in the last few years,” McGee said three months later before the counties met in the Ulster final.
“Right he was. You don’t want that hanging over you when you finish football. It’s something I never noticed, but unfortunately the stats are there.”
Until the Ulster final last year, when Donegal avenged the 2013 final defeat to the Farney county, Donegal hadn’t beaten Monaghan in Championship football since 1983.
After having the rug pulled from under them by Monaghan the previous summer, 2014 meant a lot to Donegal.
Jim McGuinness left supporters in no doubt what it meant when he addressed a delirious homecoming in Donegal town.
Video courtesy of Brendan ‘Bradas’ O’Donnell/ Jacksonmediatv
“Today was the day we wanted. We wanted to be in Clones today and we wanted the opposition we played today. There was a lot of pain from last year. Those questions had to be answered.”
All of a sudden, Donegal and Monaghan have become Ulster’s big showdown. In the 12 campaigns from 1999 to 2010, Tyrone and Armagh shared the Anglo-Celt between them, bookended by Derry’s triumph in 1998 and
Donegal’s victory in 2011.
While Dublin-Meath, Cork-Kerry and Galway-Mayo are the big ones in the other provinces, Ulster’s war has changed over the decades. Tyrone-Armagh was undoubtedly the box office draw in the ‘noughties’, once attracting 19,631 to Casement Park in 2006 – and that was for a McKenna Cup semi-final. Donegal-Monaghan hasn’t reached that stage
just yet, but a packed house at St Tiernach’s Park on Sunday will offer further evidence that that this is the new rivalry in town.
Their meetings have certainly provided no end of talking points, although that isn’t a new phenomenon.
In the 1979 Ulster final, Kieran Keeney scored a points in the opening seconds, but as the Monaghan goalkeeper took the kick-out, the band, assembled on the sideline, struck up Amhrán na bhFiann. Referee Hugh Duggan had ‘forgot’ the pre-match tradition and opted to stop the game and re-start it from scratch, meaning Keeney’s scored the point that never was.
The Ardara native recently remembered: “No-one really knew what was happening and you were already up at the heat for an Ulster final. I don’t know if what happened was strictly legal, but…”
There have been painful days for Donegal against Monaghan. Just ask Charlie Mulgrew, who sustained a broken jaw following a clash with Jack McCarville in the semi-final of ‘83. Donegal won with Joyce McMullin netting a first-half goal, but it was a day that would be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
“The semi-final was littered with fouling and the conduct was more in common with barbarians,” Connie Duffy reported in the Donegal News. The mercury shattered the thermometer at the end.
As Seamus Bonner arched over Donegal’s final point, the Monaghan goalkeeper, Kevin McNeill, was so angered that his side had lost he pushed an umpire into the netting and broke his flag off the upright. All this with Mulgrew’s jaw shattered. Monaghan were twice Brian McIver’s last opponents as Donegal manager.
In 2007, the Donegal bus crept out of Omagh’s Healy Park after an emphatic 2-12 to 1-7 qualifier defeat. A sombre McIver sat at the front having informed the players of his decision to resign. Coaxed back for another go in the weeks that followed, McIver’s 2008 shuddered to a close when Monaghan rolled into Ballybofey for a qualifier and won.
“A lot of boys grew up today and showed character,” Kevin Cassidy said after the one-point loss.
McIver quit in disgust that September when a motion of no confidence was tabled at a county committee meeting. The Derryman had been grilled by club delegates.
“Coming into the Monaghan game we lacked ambition,” one delegate fumed. “All the talk coming out was of wanting to settle for a good performance. We didn’t want that – we wanted to beat Monaghan.”
Mark McHugh could tell you a thing or two feeling the pain of a Monaghan defeat, too.
His Ulster final in 2013 lasted just ten minutes after he shipped a heavy hit from Stephen Gollogly that left him in hospital for two nights.
McGuinness kept his counsel until Donegal defeated Laois six days later at Carrick-on-Shannon in a qualifier. At Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, he cut loose.
“I’m not happy that we have a player with a busted eardrum, sustained major concussion and has a five-centimetre tear in his quad muscle,” he blasted.
“We have to create a situation where it’s okay to put people out on the pitch We are not afraid of physicality. However, there’s a difference between physicality and busted eardrums, concussions and
serious leg injuries.
“You have a duty of care to your players and I would be fearful that my lads are going to end up on the receiving end of something that is going to cause everybody a lot of pain. That is something I don’t want to happen and it’s not a situation I’d like to preside over.”
When Mayo knocked them out of the Sam Maguire race on the August Bank Holiday weekend, it meant that within three weeks, Donegal had let go of their Ulster and All-Ireland titles.
“Bluntly, we let ourselves down,” Michael Murphy observed after the Monaghan game. When their swords crossed last July, Donegal didn’t need much in the way of motivation. In April, Monaghan added another Donegal scalp when
they claimed victory in the Division 2 final at Croke Park.
That, too, is remembered for the dark side and Rory Kavanagh’s sending off when he prodded Darren Hughes whilst holding the Monaghan man’s boot. When they got to Clones, the battle lines were drawn.
Gollogly went in hard on Ryan McHugh and Donegal’s players piled in to stand up their man. A little later, Murphy hit the deck on the sideline just beside the dugouts. Several Monaghan players attempted to get a word in his ear but Neil Gallagher stood guard over his captain.
Donegal reclaimed the provincial title after 70 minutes of pure warfare. McGuinness’s reaction at the final whistle told the story.
“I think it’s the biggest victory that we’ve had,” he would later say. As Maurice Deegan blew his final whistle, Paddy McGrath was on the end of a robust challenge. The Ardara man responded with a ferocious shoulder and a smirk that said it all. The Monaghan man could laugh no more.
They collide again on Sunday. It’s no laughing matter. Who said the provincial championships were dead?Tags: