Dick Clerkin looks back on a Monaghan career that started at the bottom and ended at the top

Niall McCoy: What was it like growing up, in football terms anyway, with a famous dad, Hugo? How were those early years?

Dick Clerkin: Daddy finished playing in ’87, I have vague recollections of going to Monaghan games. Monaghan were going well at the time and would have been at Croke Park quite often and in Ulster finals too. I have patchy recollections of going to games with mummy and Ben, my older brother by a year.

I have no recollection of dad playing but that being said, I was always very conscious, when I got to the age where I started playing myself, of pictures of the ’85 team and the ’79 team. So you’re very conscious of it and you’d go anywhere with dad and be referred to as ‘Hugo’s son.’ He was a PE teacher here in Monaghan town so he would have been well known for that as well.

When he finished playing he got involved in coaching the juveniles in Currin. Like a lot of parents, he was there for my first game at u-12s, there was no real u-10s. We had a good big garden at home and we built a set of goals and played football wearing dad’s old Monaghan and Kerry jerseys and whatever jersey he would have had lying around.

NMcC: You were a good golfer too growing up, and you won a Ronan Rafferty Cup.

DC: Scotshouse is my village and it’s on the Cavan-Fermanagh border. Clones Golf Club is actually in Scotshouse parish. It’s literally just a mile from my house. Dad played a lot of golf, more so obviously when he finished up playing (football) so he brought myself and Ben out at a very young age and we got into it. We spent our summers out there when we weren’t playing football. I played a lot of golf maybe up until my first year in college.

I got down to a six handicap at one stage. There was a good juvenile set-up and I played in a lot of Ulster competitions. We won the Ronan Rafferty twice. I am actually back playing golf now. I didn’t play an awful lot for the guts of 20 years since. I have joined up this year with Rossmore in Monaghan town.

NMcC: That first Ronan Rafferty win against Banbridge GC, with the supporters’ bus and all that, it was probably your first experience of winning something and the crowd congratulating you.>f 111<

DC: It probably was. I didn’t win anything at u-12, u-14, u-16 (with Currin), I never really thought about that but it probably was the first time winning something with a team.

NMcC: I always like hearing about players who were good at other sports, were there any transferrable skills from the golf course to the football pitch?

DC: I could say good manners but people might say where is the evidence? Probably the best thing was the discipline around golf. That whole concept of etiquette and practice, and golf is quite a selfish game even though we played in a team environment. I found it a good foil to football, which was very much teamwork. You can’t always have a big influence on a team whereas on a golf course it’s all about you. You can give out all you want but you’re giving out to yourself.

You can compete against yourself and that’s one of the reasons why I stopped playing golf. I got down to a low handicap but then when I went to college and ramped up playing with Monaghan I wasn’t playing enough to play off six. I got really frustrated then because I couldn’t compete. I was really a 10 handicapper playing off six. You were no good; you weren’t going to win anything. That put me off playing.

NMcC: You used the word selfish in there, and that’s a great segue to my next question. I was reading a report there from the Mattie Smith Cup, an u-14 tournament in Cavan, that said you dominated. Then I spoke to someone who was at that match and they were laughing and saying you wouldn’t pass the ball. When you play with a small club and you have the talent, was there a tendency at underage to try and do almost too much?

DC: The structures at underage, Go Games etc, does an awful lot to temper that and not allow a big juvenile to dominate the game. Back then it was 11-a-side football on a big pitch, loads of space and if you were a big juvenile, and there were no limits on how many touches you could take, you could do that. Yes we wouldn’t have had a massive pick and wouldn’t have necessarily had the strongest 11 or 13, so there was a tendency to be a wee bit greedy.

I’m coaching now at u-9s in the club here (Monaghan Harps) and I would never allow that to happen. It left me very short-stacked when I went to 15-a-side football. It took me quite a while to step up because you’re not the big juvenile, you don’t have the space. You need to have a broader skillset in terms of passing and awareness. You didn’t have that at 11-a-side when you were the dominant player. I could have been a much better player had I played in a 15-a-side environment as opposed to what I played in growing up.

NMcC: By 1998 you were playing for your club seniors at a very young age.

DC: Sure here, back then if your father let you, you played. My brother played younger yet, I think Ben might have been 15 or 16 when he played. I was a wee bit later getting involved because in my u-17 year I got picked to play on the compromise rules Ulster panel, which was going for a while. It was what kicked off the whole compromise series, it started with provincial teams. There was myself, Fergal Doherty was on it, Mickey Walsh, Jarlath Bell, a great underage player from Bellaghy, Ciaran Boyle from Fermanagh.

That was my first exposure of playing with top level talent from around the province. When I was involved with that I didn’t play with the club. I didn’t play a whole time until I was properly minor and even at that, there wasn’t a huge pile of pressure because Currin would have been have been finishing very much at the bottom of Monaghan football and would have been for a long time.

NMcC: You were floating around the Monaghan minors at that time too, as was Ben. Was there ever any ‘ah they’re just in because they’re Clerkins’ talk or anything like that?

DC: Ben was a year older in football terms so for his year I was on the panel as well. They cut it at a certain stage coming up to the league and championship and I always remember getting a letter at that time and we both got a letter to say we hadn’t made it. I was obviously very disappointed but I was more disappointed for Ben because that was his year.

Ben never got the opportunity to get up to u-21 or seniors. He was suffering from playing 11-a-side football too. The two of us weren’t developed enough at u-15 the way you’d need to be at that stage. I felt he would have been well fit for the panel so in terms of being Hugo’s sons, certainly if there was any favouritism going you would have gotten the nod there. Anything we got, we got very much on our own. I think it was more to do with the club maybe. Currin would have been seen as a lightweight then and you had to earn everything the hard way.

NMcC: Your ’99 minor team had a disappointing loss against Fermanagh but a lot of players went on to play senior. Even at that stage you and Owen Lennon seemed to have formed a good partnership.

DC: We did, yeah. That day Fermanagh beat us I was wing half-back and he was in the middle. Owen got a run at full-forward once but he was an out and out midfielder. I played most of my football around the middle but I played half-back, half-forward, full-forward, full-back. That was the first time we got to play together and for the best part of 20 years we ended up together around the middle third. That was disappointing that year because so many of that team progressed.

There was huge talent there but we just didn’t perform on the day. We were complacent because we’d given that Fermanagh team a hockeying in the league. As you are at that age, we were just a bit raw and naïve. Down went on to win the All-Ireland and we had beaten them twice that year. So we knew we were potentially as good as that team and were just caught on the day.

NMcC: No rest for the wicked though and Jack McCarville had you straight into the seniors after that. How did you get the call?

DC: It was very much an eye-raiser at the time. I made my debut in the ’99 league, which was the ’99-2000 league. That previous summer Monaghan, and they did it the year before, had an amalgamated championship so smaller clubs could amalgamate and play in the Senior Championship. Ourselves, Clones and Killeevan merged and we were called Finn Valley. In ’99 we had a bit of a run. We beat another amalgamated team, I think they were called Mid Monaghan Gaels, Ballybay, Drumhowan and someone else, and then we beat Donaghmoyne who were a traditional senior club. I played very well in both games and it was a shop window that you certainly wouldn’t have had for Currin getting hockeyed in the Junior Championship.

Based on that, I got a call to play in a challenge match. It was totally unexpected, I was 17 at the time. The match, I think, was up in the Cooley Peninsula to play Louth. I was doing my Leaving Cert and I was asked. The chat at home was would I go? Did I have a realistic chance of sticking with it? We headed up the road, daddy drove me up, and I played rightly. I wouldn’t say I stood out but I did enough to raise a few eyebrows and that was basically it. I went to training and was able to stick at it even though I nearly died the first few nights.

I kept at it and next thing I got my debut in the league a month later against Cavan in Breffni. I was 18 in that October, raw and green, and that’s how it came about.

NMcC: I think a lot of people forget that you were a free-taker in those early days, and it seemed that Jack played you at centre half-back quite a bit. Was that ever a serious position option for you?

DC: I would have thought, and my father and others would always have also said, that it could have been my best position. I was never a big midfielder, you were always giving away three or four inches and having to fight hard to compete. I played around six when I did, but even with my club I played as a forward or attacking midfielder and was a heavy scorer.

I carried that into Monaghan and even for Queen’s I would have pushed forward for scores. Back then you moved further up the field when you could score. It’s not like now when a good forward can end up as a half-back. It was the other way around. I was free-taker with the club, and then the Monaghan u-21s. I’m trying to remember if I did take them for Jack? I don’t think so, sure Declan Smith was playing at that time. I did in ‘Banty’s (Seamus McEnaney) first year. People look at you sideways when you tell them that.

Monaghan hit the headlines in the late 2000s and I had gotten away from being a scorer so I was never associated with that. The first five or six years I scored, and I’d like to think I finished my career in that vein. It’s the middle bit that always hung over me.

NMcC: The Ulster Championship debut came against Fermanagh in 2000 and it wasn’t a rare thing for them to beat you back then. Championship victories were few and far between for Monaghan then. How was the culture and reaction to defeats like that?

DC: I don’t know what the fair word to use is. I don’t want to be disingenuous but I would almost say an indifference. When we lost it was a case of that’s going to happen but, equally, when you won it was that you were well fit to win because there was loads of talent there.

Monaghan just hadn’t been disciplined enough or didn’t have enough players sticking at it for long enough to forge a good team. The 10 years previous to that, from when the ‘80s team broke up, there was loads of talent. Throughout the ‘90s, there was easily an Ulster title in that time. If you think of the games they played in and competed in against the Donegals, the Derrys but won nothing.

People had got to that stage of ‘yeah, we know Monaghan can compete but they’re not a serious outfit.’ ‘Blayney were very strong then and it would have always been said that – and the ‘Blayney boys will not like hearing this – they were very much ‘Blayney first, county second to a point. They were still very good men but you never got the sense that everybody was 100 percent into the county jersey.

Nobody ever got the sense that Monaghan were on the cusp of doing something because they knew that there wasn’t enough collectively being put in. There wasn’t enough being put in at county board level. The support was very poor, the facilities. You were just existing. You were competing because there was enough talent there but you were never sticking your head too far above the parapet.

NMcC: It must have driven you mad then playing for Queen’s then. Cormac McAnallen, God rest him, Philly Jordan, I think Paddy McKeever did a lot of scoring for you. They were players from teams, aiming for Ulster titles and beyond.

DC: For me personally, going to Belfast was a game-changer. You were in the dressing room and you were playing with and against these guys that, let’s be honest, you felt were at a level above you. Monaghan were at the base at that time. Cavan, Fermanagh, Armagh were coming strong, Tyrone too. Other counties had All-Ireland titles not too far in the past so Monaghan were an afterthought. Then you get up there and you are togging out and being as good as if not better than a lot of these guys who you felt were better. That wasn’t just a case for me, I was looking at the likes of Owen Lennon going to college and equally being as good as anyone else. You were validating that the talent and the ability was there.

NMcC: And from your Monaghan debut, the first significant win came against Armagh in Ulster in 2003, but where were you?

DC: I was dropped by Colm Coyle and I’ll be honest, it’s still very sore for me. I had been on the panel three years previous and had played championship the year before in Jack’s last year. We had a bad year, Fermanagh beat us again and we limped out as was the case back then.

Colm Coyle came in and set up new ideas, a new team, a load of new faces, a lot of unknowns – boys who would have played club football and wouldn’t have played much county football, and haven’t done since. I was in Belfast, playing rightly with Queen’s in my final year when we got to the Sigerson final. I had been playing in the league for Colm and out of the blue I got a call. The team were heading to Spain for a training weekend, the first time Monaghan did anything like that, and I got a call to a phonebox on the Malone Road, just outside The Bot. I was told ‘no, you’re not travelling, you’ve been let go.’

At the time football was the thing that mattered. At college you did enough to get through the exams and it was all about playing for Queen’s and playing for Monaghan and looking forward to a career that would hopefully go on an upward trajectory. Maybe he just didn’t fancy me. You knew that was the way the cards fell with some managers while you knew other managers would back you to the hilt, like Jack did. He liked the cut of me and gave me the start when nine managers out of 10 wouldn’t have at that age. Colm didn’t and it’s not a nice thing to have on the CV.

Whatever about not getting your place, fine you’re on the bench, but to not travel? I look back at some of the lads that travelled and were never part of a county set-up again. I got back in the next year, I played well for Queen’s and Colm asked me back in. I made the championship team either side of the year I didn’t make the squad, so I wasn’t a massively different player. That’s why it never made a whole pile of sense to me.

NMcC: Seamus McEnaney came in and everything changed then for Monaghan. I’m not saying he did everything himself, but he seemed like a great man to lead that ship. That first season there was the dramatic league final win over Meath.

DC: You got to 2005 and a lot of the boys had been through the college circuit or in the middle of it, and were winning Sigersons and competing. ‘Jap’ (Paul Finlay) was going well with Sligo, three or four of the boys were down in DCU and competing really well. That Tyrone u-21 team, if they hadn’t been there then we easily could have won a couple of Ulsters if not more. We ran them close but they were just too good, no point saying otherwise.

We knew there was potential. The bars are full of guys who have potential and it was a case of, ‘we need to be pushed hard, we need to be smartened up’. We needed to take ourselves more seriously in terms of our discipline and training and gym. Grow up a bit, if I’m being honest. It was up to the younger lads to do that. I’m not being unfair to some of the older guys on the panel but that ‘90s style wasn’t going to cut it in terms of where Armagh and Tyrone had brought it.

The younger guys had to set the bar and we had to pull up our socks to lead it both for our own generation and the boys coming through. ‘Banty’ came along at the right time with a bit of energy, a bit of belief. I was always a big advocate of home grown management teams and he brought in the likes of Gerry McCarville, Gerard Hoey and Bernie (Murray).

There was a good feel about it and we got off to a good start, obviously. You were at a level playing in Division Two and you knew that if you came up with another 10 or 15 percent you could be winning, and hence it transpired. It showed the sign of the times the way that game went, the crowds that were going to those games you wouldn’t see now. Monaghan had looked at Tyrone, Armagh and every other county that was winning and competing in Croke Park for the previous 15 years and now it was our turn. Everyone was glad of that. We just got off to a perfect start.

NMcC: You didn’t get over the line in Ulster with ‘Banty’, again probably because of that Tyrone team. Still, the team produced some memorable moments and the two Kerry matches in particular, which were probably your first time playing a top team outside of Ulster, were special.

DC: It’s so long ago now. I was watching old games back at the start of Covid and was posting them up and it might as well have been in black and white considering how little it compared with the current game. I’m starting to sound like an aul fella now but it was much more enjoyable game to watch. The frantic end-to-end, loads of kicking, loads of mistakes, loads of contests. It was just war.

I look back and ‘Banty’, to his credit, he wanted to play a fast, pacey, intense, let-the-ball-in type of football. It probably cost us an Ulster title because with a bit more savvy, being streetwise in terms of managing possession a wee bit better… ‘Banty’ would probably admit it now but we were a bit slow (to react). I think back to that Fermanagh game in 2008, we were just outthought on the line. You were still very raw. You were still just trying to kick it in and find Tommy (Freeman) or Vinny (Corey) on the square. We needed a wee bit more savvy to be winning.

When you went up to Croke Park to play against a team who played traditionally, like a Kerry, that style of play worked very well. I still maintain that’s Croke Park football. That’s the type of football you can play up there. You need to be able to be expansive. You need to be able to kick it. You need to be able to win the game quickly. I’d still maintain that those two performances were the two best Monaghan performances at Croke Park since.

When you look back at the Tyrone games and the games in Malachy O’Rourke’s era, they haven’t been good enough. There is no point saying otherwise. We didn’t go to play Croke Park football. You have to back yourself. If you’re wing half-forward you got to be able to take the score from 30, 40 yards. You can’t be going up there thinking it’s okay to get through the game and passing the ball left and right. We went up against Kerry and it was very much throw everything at them. Play fast, and they allowed us to do that and it worked very well. They did just have a bit more quality but if the cards had fallen slightly differently, we could have gotten over the line.

NMcC: When Seamus left he was replaced by Eamon McEneaney. While there were some highlights for you – I think it was the first time you captained the team – overall it was a tough time and the Down match, the 2012 Ulster semi-final, was hard to stomach. You must have been thinking that you were going to end up with nothing in your pocket.

DC: I’ll never forget going to the 2012 All-Ireland final. Donegal, we had their number for all of ‘Banty’s’ time and we never had any issue beating Donegal. We still haven’t since. Whatever about Tyrone, you would never have seen Donegal as a team to fear and the next thing I’m looking at them winning an All-Ireland. I’m just shaking my head going, ‘mother of God, what did we do wrong?’.

Even in terms of how the game had developed in fitness and style of play, I remember thinking we were a long way off that from where we had left it that year. It was a case of can we turn it around quickly enough because a lot of us were on the wrong end of 30. It’s not that you couldn’t, it’s just that you had to do it very quickly.

I feel very sorry for Eamon for those years. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for transitioning from ‘Banty’s’ time to what Malachy picked up. You mention that Down game, the football we played in the first half against Down was as good as Monaghan have played in the last 10 years. It still stands up there. We were superb. Maybe, again, a bit of a lack of belief or savvy to see the game out. I missed a shot to level it up. It was tough to take.

Eamon did not deserve the luck he got. We got relegated twice. We didn’t deserve to get relegated the first year. We went down on scoring difference. We had beaten Mayo, we had beaten Galway, we had just lost to Dublin, who would win the All-Ireland that year, because Diarmuid Connolly kicked a few screamers. We lost against Armagh in a game that we should never have lost and that ultimately put us down.

We shouldn’t have gotten relegated from Division Two but we ended up playing five games away from home because of an incident in the Kildare game. Next thing we ended up losing to Galway in Longford. We had no luck. There were injuries, there was a bit of a hangover from ‘Banty’s’ time. You just sensed that there was a bit of a step back and you knew we weren’t firing on all cylinders.

What he did bring is that he moved us to a more modern type of play. Trying to balance that kicking, fast-moving style of ‘Banty’ with a more possession based, trying to move it around the ‘D’, a bit more structure. When Malachy came in, he benefitted from that.

I still maintain that we had the best panel in terms of age profile and the blend between the old and the new in 2012, ’13. If there had been a bit more consistency or if you hadn’t taken that dip, that could have been the time that Monaghan could have won an All-Ireland because Donegal came out of nowhere. There wasn’t the same dominance of Dublin as there is now. Kerry were strong but it was much more conceivable to win or compete but we just fell off the radar a bit and by the time we got back up to that level Dublin were coming strong.

NMcC: It was Malachy, Aidan O’Rourke and Mick McDermott in the running to replace Eamon. What happens for the players, do you text and chat about who you hope gets it? How do you feel in those times?

DC: You maybe don’t know what happened there. We felt Eamon hadn’t got the backing that he should have. If the players were being honest, because of that hangover from ‘Banty’s’ time, we didn’t collectively give it all either. There was a difference of opinion though, the county board felt that it was time for the older generation to move on and it was almost a rebuilding job.

We got wind that they were looking for a manager with similar ambitions. No pressure, something cheap and cheerful and try and build for the future. We were saying ‘no, we’re not done here.’ The old players met and decided we would have to spell this out. We wanted them to go out and find the best manager for the job. We weren’t going to take it if they were going to put it a management team that didn’t have our ambition.

‘Banty’ was still keen to get back in. That was probably never going to happen the way things worked out in 2010 but we were of the opinion that if they couldn’t do better. We had no problem with ‘Banty’ coming back in. It was very much a case of go out and do your best, and if they at least did that we would be happy enough – and they did.

Paul Curran, who was the chairman at the time, we met him Cloghan and spelt it out and he said that he would out a selection team together to go out and canvas the likes of Michael McDermott, Aidan O’Rourke put his head up I think and then Malachy obviously. Malachy got the nod so that’s how that came about. There’s a good chance Malachy wouldn’t have gotten it if the players hadn’t pushed and everything that came after might not have happened.

It was the right outcome and everyone who was involved, the players, the county board, the management, did the right thing. It took the collective to make sure it was the right appointment. We had nailed our colours to the mast that we were 100 percent behind this man, which obviously we were and the results came.

NMcC: It’s a bit like your free-taking Dick, people just blank it out, but I do think people forget just how written off you were going into that 2013 Ulster final against Donegal. The bookies were offering 7/1. In the end not only did you win, but you won emphatically.>f 111<

DC: It was a very strange summer. We knew we hadn’t fallen as far back as people might have thought. A lot of boys were carrying injuries and were maybe a bit burnt out from going hard and needed a breather almost to recharge and get a bit of freshness back, no more than myself. That energy was back in the panel and there was a new voice.

You were coming from a nice, easy low base in Division Three where we could blood new players and get back winning games, which is always good for the confidence. We won the league final against Meath so we were just tipping away nicely, coming nicely under the radar.

We beat Antrim and Cavan – not very convincingly. Again we were comfortable but it was average stuff. I’d say Jimmy McGuinness, when he was looking at those two games, wasn’t shaking in his boots. It was a case of a team finding its feet with a new manager, new players coming in.

Everything sort of fell into place on the day. You were coming in very much under the radar, everyone was fit and fresh. Again, we had no inhibitions about Donegal. It didn’t really matter that they were the Ulster champions. We had lined up against all of the players and beaten them often. There was no lining up against Neil Gallagher or Rory Kavanagh or the McGees and thinking they were just better than us like we might have thought that against a Stephen O’Neill or a Sean Cavanagh.

We got off to a good start, we were at home and playing well. You just got that sense that the wind was in your sails and you had their number. They just didn’t fancy it and didn’t like being beaten at their own game. I wouldn’t say they threw in the towel but they just didn’t have any sort of plan B and maybe thought that they would eventually win it. They weren’t able to cope, it was emphatic and we should have beaten them by more. We should have had a few goals and we should have had far more on the scoreboard at half time.

We were very satisfied. Going into the game, and I might be sounding very confident in hindsight because absolutely not, we were bricking it, but we were on red alert. You knew you had to be at your best, working at your hardest. Now that probably went against us the following year against them, we were complacent.

NMcC: Between the Ulster win and Tyrone quarter-final did you do much drinking?

DC:  No, just the two nights. We went on a bit of a bus tour on the Monday and there was absolutely no more after that. There was no week bender, those things aren’t really done even at club level regardless of what some might think. We enjoyed it, you had to purge it out of the system and allow yourself to come down before coming back up. The celebrations, I certainly wouldn’t be laying them at the door for the reason we underperformed against Tyrone.

NMcC: That was going to be by next point. Everyone remembers Joe Brolly’s comments on Sean Cavanagh for his foul on Conor McManus but you didn’t play well. Marty Penrose gets sent off, Conor Gormley is fortunate not to get sent off and walking off at half time Tyrone looked like they had lost their heads. But you didn’t play anywhere near what you could, you maybe didn’t play Croke Park football as you’d call it.

That was an average Tyrone team by their own admission, and we didn’t perform. A lot of guys didn’t perform. We were a man up after Marty Penrose went off. Sean Cavanagh ran the show in the first half and we couldn’t get a handle on him. We didn’t ask enough questions of Tyrone, we allowed them too much initiative.

Conor Gormley, Conor Clarke, Joe McMahon, these guys that you should have been putting on the back foot, were coming forward and getting ‘cow killed the hare’ points from distance. Ultimately that got them over the line.

People might have looked at the ‘Mansy’ thing as a nice excuse. There was no guarantee he’d have scored it, there was no guarantee we still would have won it. We didn’t play well enough and that was just it. I wouldn’t say it was a regret, that’s just what it was, we didn’t perform.

NMcC: Was there any ill-will towards Sean from the players or was it a case of just saying ‘that’s football?’

Listen, we just didn’t play well enough, we didn’t have enough threat. That was very disappointing because that team was good enough and could have been well in the mix. Of all the games that certainly was one of the ones that was left behind.

NMcC: A second Ulster title arrives in 2015. You knew you were coming towards the end of the road, was it a lovely way to finish things off?

I still felt I was worth my place but Malachy felt I could contribute more coming off the bench, which was fine and worked out grand. There was the blend of a very good team there again. You had other guys coming in like Ryan Wylie, Karl O’Connell, Ryan McAnespie. Boys were coming in at the bottom and you weren’t bleeding too much at the top end. The middle group, the likes of ‘Mansy’ and Darren (Hughes) were coming to 27, 28 so you had a very nice balance.

We really should have been kicking the door down for an All-Ireland and I still think that we never broke out of ourselves in terms of the way we played. We never played like we did against Donegal in Clones in 2013. Having that blend of high energy, go-forward ball with a really disciplined shape and intensity. It’s what you needed in Croke Park but we regressed a bit. That 2015 final was very turgid stuff. We did enough win but I watched it back and we kicked a lot away, we kicked a bucket away in the second half. We were enough ahead and we didn’t perform in 2014, so it was fair enough the way it was dished out over the three years.

We didn’t perform in a way that said Monaghan are coming out of Ulster as All-Ireland contenders. We were still outside the All-Ireland conversation by virtue of the way we were playing, even though if Donegal were coming out people would know they had it in their locker to bring a certain type of performance to Croke Park. They won one, they got to finals and they hadn’t seen it from Monaghan. ‘I don’t care if you are Ulster winners, we haven’t seen enough to deem you contenders.’

I think that seeped in on us and it was one of the reasons why we didn’t perform at Croke Park. We should have allowed ourselves to see if we could open up a wee bit and play that way. When you don’t have that in your locker it’s very hard to get the confidence that goes with it.

NMcC: You’re obviously very articulate and when you did retire, was the media something you always wanted to get involved with?

DC: No, there was no burning ambition. I felt that if the opportunity came up you’d maybe throw your hand at it and see how it goes. It’s not something you can dictate, it’s an opportunity if someone wants to give you it.

In 2011 out of the blue Tony Leen from the Examiner rang me and asked would I be interested in doing a column for them. I was playing at the time and I always say in sport and life and work that opportunities don’t always come around. I didn’t have the profile that you could demand or go knocking on doors and have a load of offers if that was what you wanted to do down the line. So there was an opportunity there and if you don’t say yes you may never get it again – so I did.

I said to them that I had no interest in writing about the games of the day. I wasn’t going to review Sunday’s games. If you’re playing you would be compromised so I’d try and come up with a fairly generic topical subject that didn’t put me in the firing line. That’s the way I wrote for the couple of years so you didn’t get any trouble out of it and you tried to be interesting, informative, whatever, but I wasn’t writing about how Tyrone or Armagh did that Sunday. I didn’t have to call Sean Cavanagh out or anything like that, I was able to stay away from all that.

I cut my teeth and showed people that I had something to say. And I enjoyed it. It was tough, I spent far too much time in the beginning writing them because you were trying to do them right and all the rest. I got a real kick out of it and all the opportunities I have now stem from that, I’m 100 percent sure of that. I’d never be writing for the Independent or working with Sky had I not done that bit with the Examiner.

NMcC: That does add another layer of exposure to yourself and it seems on Twitter that a lot of people argue with you no matter what you say. Do you sense that people go out of their way to pick a fight with you?>f 111<

DC: Yeah, yeah. You get a sense of that, although I don’t really engage too much. I learned over the last couple of years that there is no real benefit to it. Maybe in the early years,  I’d still let my guard down and if I could  get involved in something I shouldn’t, I would have. I’m not populist, if I have a strong opinion on something I’ll share it. A lot of ones will stick the nose out and see what way the wind is blowing and jump in on it – I don’t do that. If it happens to be opposite to the popular social media trend then that’s what you get. I don’t care and if I don’t write it on Twitter I’ll write about it.

NMcC: And what’s happening with Currin? I know you have been player-manager recently but are you planning to play this season?

DC: Not at the minute. I didn’t enjoy last year even though it was great to get back with the whole Covid thing.

NMcC: Any particular reason why you didn’t enjoy it?

DC: I’m probably getting old. I learned that I had no middle gear to go through the motions. If I can’t compete at the level I’m happiest then I find it difficult. The previous two years we were playing senior football, and I was competing really well. For the first two or three years after leaving Monaghan I was still 100 percent convinced I could still play for Monaghan.

 If Malachy had come asking me to come back in for the summer I would have said yes. The reason I stepped back from Monaghan wasn’t because I didn’t think I was good enough anymore, it was family and work, you couldn’t justify it sitting on the bench which is what the 2016 season basically became.  Malachy made the decision for me almost but I felt that the way I played for the club for the years after, there was still something to contribute there.

It was great to give the time to the club because we had slipped back. I was player-manager and we went junior to intermediate to senior and competed well so it was a great few years, I really enjoyed it. The body is catching up on me and I have sore hips though. I probably need to be doing less, not more. You start to get narky at boys playing half your age and you get too old for that.

Who knows? A short season in June and July but at the moment I don’t have much appetite for it.

NMcC: Just on managing, I got a text linking you to a coaching role in Seamus McEnaney’s management team for the season ahead, was there any truth in that?

DC:>f 111< I was never asked directly but plenty of people mentioned it to me, saying they had heard it. My name was thrown out on the rumour mill anyway.

It’s an ambition but not at the minute. It would be my ambition to do it on my own terms as the manager and I will cut my teeth at club level and ideally at minor or u-21 level with Monaghan.

The first thing I need to do is to take a step back from the club football and have the time to do it. I’d need to make sure the kids are up a bit. The youngest, she is three. The landscape needs to be all right. I have absolutely no interest or ambition in going to get involved with another county and I have absolutely no ambition or interest to get involved with another club.

I am lucky I have two clubs, Currin and Monaghan Harps where I now live and who my boys will play for. Whatever I do will be with my club or getting involved in my county.

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