By Jack Madden
PROCRASTINATION. July 14th, County Monaghan. “Friday night, I’m going nowhere.
All the lights are changing, green to red.
Turning over TV stations
Situations running through my head.”
Anticipation. July 15th, County Dublin.
“Saturday, I’m running wild
And all the lights are changing, red to green.
Moving through the crowds
I’m pushing chemicals all rushing in my bloodstream”.
Deflation, July 16th. Pride. A mixed bag.
Location? Home. Destination? Unknown.
For Dublin, it was just business. For Monaghan, it could have been the greatest day in history. There was genuine optimism. Justifiable optimism.
It wasn’t to be. That’s sport. That’s life.
The pain will linger. The memories will be vivid. No amount of highlights or action replays will loop like the view from Section 302, Row R, seat 25 of the Cusack Stand. Dean Rock scything through. Dean Rock scoring.
That image now joins one of a 2018 Niall Sludden in the locked up chest out the back of the recently extended museum. There goes that dream…
The stats would suggest that this is the golden era. Maybe in time we’ll come to realise it. To quote Robert Frost, “Nothing gold can stay.”
It takes a barren spell to appreciate it. No man devalues water when he’s lost in the Sahara.
A seven-point defeat was no shock to the realists. It was more so the manner of it. Heading down the M1 it was high hopes and low expectations for the most part. More belief than outside the county boundaries, but largely aware of the size of the task in store.
And then the task wasn’t what it had been made out to be at all. Not for the first 60 minutes anyway, with Monaghan appearing to be the most tactically flexible team in Ireland.
With a man-on-man approach, individual battles had to be won, and they largely were. The likes of Stephen O’Hanlon, Ryan McAnespie, and Ryan Wylie showed that they are so much more than system operators.
The missed goal chances were obviously huge moments. Conor McCarthy’s effort in particular showed the kind of bravery that his side required. It just didn’t fall for them, and Stephen Cluxton is likely still thanking his lucky stars over that mishap.
Dublin’s individual quality was exposed when they weren’t given the respect so many teams have willingly handed to them. It isn’t often Dessie Farrell goes to the bench with less than a half hour played. The stars were all aligning.
And yet Monaghan went in at half time behind.
It was impossible to be negative after that opening 35. Supporters were smug in the jacks. A few grins exchanged, but nothing too wild. Don’t say it out loud, but Dublin couldn’t be that poor again, surely?
For a while, perhaps. Then class told. Brian Fenton in particular, with two scores that weren’t even really on. Stephen O’Hanlon was millimetres from play being waved on, but that’s what it boils down to.
Handled on the ground, free in, punished by a man who was as quiet as a mouse for large parts. It’s been a long year for Paul Mannion with injury and Kilmacud commitments, but that converted free would have been pretty high on the spectrum of emotions.
It had become a catch-22. Monaghan had to go for it, and they certainly did that, but it only served to heighten the prominence of fresh Dublin legs. Fresh legs and wise heads, the type of Plan-B Vinny Corey’s men could only wish to deploy. After this match alone, they’re that little bit closer.
So close and yet so far. The Sunday Game’s statistics on the final quarter were a stats man’s dream, or a stats man’s nightmare. Dublin with eight turnovers, for which they returned 1-4. Monaghan with eight shots, and 37.5 per cent shooting accuracy.
The winning and losing of the game. Damning, crucifying, inevitable in almost equal measure.
If Monaghan went out with a whimper on Saturday, it would almost be enough to derail 2024. Now there is something to build on, with a big performance, on the big day, in the big city.
Vinny Corey is a mastermind tactician in his first year at the helm. Brother Martin’s loss was perhaps shown in the contrasting seasons of Monaghan and former team Cavan. And considering the volume of matches the Farney played, the S&C team have done a phenomenal job.
The eldest of the elder statesmen, Karl O’Connell, Darren Hughes, and Conor McManus each battled like absolute Trojans until the dying embers. Hughes in particular is the embodiment of all the badge stands for. A warrior in the truest sense of the word, and a damn good footballer.
And now, it is an All-Ireland final without Muineachán, as it has been every year since 1930.
Matthew McConaughey attributed his success off the back of an Oscar to three things: someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and something to chase. (1) God, (2) family, (3) himself.
“This person comes up and says ‘Who’s your hero?’.
“I said ‘I thought about it, it’s me in 10 years’.
“I turned 25 ten years later. That person comes to me and says: ‘Are you a hero?’.
“And I was like: ‘No, not even close. No, no no.’
“So you see, every day, every month, and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away.
“I’m never gonna be my hero, I’m not gonna attain that, I know I’m not.
“And that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
The journey isn’t over here. And perhaps if it ever does end and we stand on the finish line, we will see that the greatest part of it all was the journey itself.
A hell of a ride, and you can be sure it ain’t over just yet.