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JOHN O’CONNOR: “During a match I was playing in, a British Army Chinook Helicopter landed on the pitch”

Name:

John O’Connor

Teams played for:

Clones, St Tiernach’s, Carrickmacross Emmets, Monaghan (minoru-21senior), St Pat’s College, Cavan McRory Cup.

Current involvement:

Not currently involved with anyone. I have taken the last year out as I purchased a new house, I am working full-time in a very busy job and I am attending college part-time.

Which club game, that you played in, will you never forget and why?

Clones v Doohamlet, Monaghan Junior Football quarter-final, July 24, 1992, Venue: Latton GFC.

I remember this game for the wrong reasons! Clones narrowly won the game. Unfortunately, a mass brawl erupted following the final whistle. The brawl escalated and soon involved players, mentors and even supporters. I ended up with a broken nose.

Thankfully, my father (Jackie) and my brother-in-Law (Gabriel Bannigan) were on hand to pull people off me and assist me to the dressing room. Both teams were disqualified from the competition.

I suffered headaches following this incident and had to seek the advice of a brain specialist in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin where I was advised to refrain from playing any sport for a minimum of 12 months. Thankfully I recovered fully and continued my football career.

Which club game, that you watched, will you never forget and why?

Again, I have watched many club games that I could mention here, but I am going to keep it personal. As my son Ryan was growing up he had a great interest in football, I think I nearly attended 100 per cent of his underage games up to u-21.

Ryan was lucky enough to represent Monaghan Development squads over the years and I followed (and drove) him to grounds all over the country over the years. Ryan played on the Monaghan u-16 team that won the Buncrana Cup in 2014, when they beat Armagh score line of 3-8 to 1-11. This was an historic win as it was the first time in Monaghan’s history that they had claimed the Buncrana Cup. Ryan also represented Monaghan at Minor level in 2016.

Technically the game I will never forget is not a club game, but watching Ryan and his schoolmates winning the MacLarnon Cup for St. Patrician’s High School, Carrickmacross on St. Patrick’s Day 2016 will always stick with me as a proud father and supporter.

Which county game, that you played in, will you never forget and why?

Monaghan v Donegal, Ulster Senior Football Championship 1st Round, June 18 1995. Venue: Sean Mhic Cumhaill Park, Ballybofey.

Monaghan travelled to Ballybofey as massive underdogs. Donegal had beaten Down in the preliminary round a few weeks previously (Down were the reigning All-Ireland champions) and nobody gave us much of a chance.

To make matter worse, Donegal were awarded a first-minute penalty, but thankfully I managed to save Declan Bonner’s left-footed effort, with Manus Boyle sending the resulting ‘45’ wide. This boosted our confidence and with the help of a Declan Loughman goal we ended up winning by 1-14 to 0-08. This game I will never forget.

Which county game, that you watched, will you never forget and why?

The game I will never forget is the 1985 All-Ireland semi-Final between Monaghan and Kerry in Croke Park. I was only 13 years old and was brought to the match by my parents (Jackie and Deirdre). Monaghan were the underdogs, especially after Kerry’s annihilation of them in the 1979 semi-final in Croke Park (I was also there with my parents).

Monaghan played exceptional in the game but somehow found themselves a point down with time running out, but up stepped Eamon McEneaney to score an unbelievable free from outside the 45-metre line to take the match to the reply (but we won’t mention that game!)

Another match I will never forget is the Ulster Minor final 2013 in Clones between Monaghan and Tyrone.

I was co-commenting on the game with Sean McCaffrey on Northern Sound. Monaghan had not won the title in 68 years – the score was 3-9 to 2-14 to Tyrone when Monaghan were awarded a penalty with two minutes left, which Fergal McMahon scored.

That left Monaghan one point up and they followed with another point to win the title. Of course that day will never be forgotten in Monaghan as the seniors followed up the minor win by beating Donegal to win the Ulster double.

What was the funniest thing you ever saw in a game?

The funniest thing I ever saw wasn’t actually what happened in the game, but rather it was on the commentary of the game.

It’s the famous Eddie Moroney’s commentary on the Tipperary U-21A final held on January 3, 1992. The match was between Aherlow and Eir Og and the commentary is just priceless. If you haven’t seen it yet I recommend you grab a coffee and look it up on YouTube – you won’t be disappointed!

What was the strangest thing you ever saw in a game?

Again, the strangest thing that I ever saw in a game as not about the football.

During my career I played many times in Crossmaglen, co Armagh. My career was during the time that the British Army were very active in Northern Ireland due to ‘The Troubles’.

For any player or supported that ever attended a match in Crossmaglen during this period, the army helicopters taking off and landing during a game left it hard to concentrate on the game and even communicate with your fellow players.

But one time during a match I was playing in, a British Army Chinook Helicopter landed on the pitch (I think it is was too big to land in the base) and the British Army troops just got out and ran to their barracks – Needless to say the game had to be halted while all this happened!

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you watched?

Cillian O’Connor’s 4-9 (4-4 from play) for Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Munster champions Tipperary in a foggy Croke Park in December 2020 is hard to match.

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you played?

Stephen McGinnity’s second half performance for Monaghan seniors in my Ulster Championship debut against National League champions Derry in Castleblayney on June 14, 1992.

We had a shocking first half and found ourselves 0-10 to 0-1 in arrears at half-time, with our only score of the half coming in the 36th minute!

In the second half Stephen was the driving force of the comeback, scoring two goals and setting up the third for Ray McCarron when his shot rebounded off the crossbar. Stephen finished the game with 2-1 and Ray McCarron, who also had a magnificent second half, contributed 1-4.

The game ended in a draw Monaghan 3-8 Derry 1-14, which nobody would have predicted at half-time. Unfortunately we lost the replay in Celtic Park Derry the following week by 2-9 to 0-7 and our year was over, as there was no back door in those days.

What did you love about the games you played in?

I loved the passion and camaraderie between players for the majority of the all teams I played with. That was very evident when playing with Monaghan GAA, as club rivals became teammates and friends for life.

What did you hate about the games you played in?

That’s an easy one – losing! I am a very competitive person in everything I do in life and football is no different , I always wanted to win every game I played in and I always tried my best to influence the game as much as I could to achieve the victory.

Unfortunately, as we all know, in life you can’t win every match you play or in everything you do. But the most important lesson in football or life is that winning is not the be all and end all, it’s the taking part, enjoying what you are doing, and being the best you can that matters most. That is all it takes to be successful.

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