By Michael McMullan
ALL-STAR Farney ace Tommy Freeman has heaped praise on former teammate Vinny Corey for his first season as manager that came to an end with Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat.
Freeman says he is “very proud” of how Monaghan pushed Dublin every step of the way on Saturday and agreed the Dubs’ 1-17 to 0-13 winning margin didn’t do justice to what the Ulster men brought to the table.
The Magheracloone man was in Croke Park on Saturday night and knows exactly how the Monaghan camp will be feeling this week.
His penalty shot Monaghan into the lead in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final, a one-point defeat to Kerry, a game he played alongside current manager Corey in.
It still haunts Freeman to this very day. Monaghan led until the final five minutes before the Kingdom’s impact from the bench dragged them to victory.
The regret comes from watching Kerry romp past Cork in the All-Ireland final. Looking back on Saturday, he knows the Monaghan camp will have zero interest in any offering of a moral victory.
“We are very proud of the team, they did well and it was a great year,” Freeman said, full of praise for the effort put in from the players.
“It would be nice to get over that final hurdle and make the All-Ireland final. The players and Vinny will be utterly disappointed.
“They didn’t want to go up just to put in a good performance and say ‘we’d a good year’, that’s not the way they’d be thinking and it’s not the way I was thinking as a former player.”
After shipping a hammering to Derry in the Ulster semi-final, Monaghan emerged from the long grass to formulate a plan that took them to the cusp of Sunday week’s All-Ireland final.
Freeman accepts there has been a turnaround in fortunes but hasn’t been surprised by it either. It’s in the Monaghan DNA. They squeeze the most from every game with a never-day-die attitude that saw them claw their way from tight corners against both Derry and Armagh in the All-Ireland series.
“I have to give great credit to the older statesmen who keep coming back to the well every year,” Freeman said.
“Monaghan need those boys with the size of the county and the pick that we have, they are very important.
“Like every county, we are a very proud county and all you want to see them being successful.
“Saturday, I was extremely proud of the team and I was absolutely disappointed. It was a big task and nobody was giving us a chance.”
Going to Croke Park, Freeman had the feeling they’d have every chance if they stayed toe to toe with Dublin until the final twist in the road.
He points to Conor McManus being unlucky not to be granted a free when the game was in the fire late on. Dublin’s squeeze on Monaghan’s kick-out was a factor. As were the “millimetres” that separated a free being blown against Stephen O’Hanlon who fouled the ball in the latter stages.
“The clientele Dublin were taking off the bench, they had experience in All-Ireland finals and that stood to them in the last 10 or 15 minutes against us,” Freeman added, name checking Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey.
He also hailed the input of his close friend Corey who stepped into the job few wanted. Freeman bounced the regular ‘good luck’ text in Corey’s direction but let him have his own space in the championship bubble.
“Vinny Corey wears his heart on his sleeve,” Freeman said. “When he was on the pitch, he gave everything. There were no shortcuts and everything was done the right way. If there was something out of place, he’d be letting anybody know.
“He has done an awful lot in a short space of time for Monaghan football. He blooded a lot of young players and some of them have six or eight games under their belt. Going back to the old format, you might need two or three years to blood those players.”