Ulster title is start of a bright new era as Monaghan eye All Ireland triumph
Published 23/07/2013 | 01:30
It was a riot of smiles and colour and endorphins in the Clones tunnel on Sunday following Monaghan's Ulster title triumph.
In the midst of it, tucked into a corner against a full-height gate, stood the veteran Dick Clerkin. He imparted the wisdom of a man who had started playing for Monaghan as a schoolboy in the late 1990s, living through generations of players who never got to climb the steps of the Gerry Arthurs Stand and lift the Anglo-Celt.
He was able to embrace the silverware, to give it a quick peck before hoisting it skywards to great acclaim. Pity those veterans who don't get to experience moments like that at the end of their career.
"It was actually my 150th appearance for Monaghan, I didn't say anything going into the game in case I didn't get a run, but I would never have thought that landmark would have gone so well, I'm so happy," he said.
Asked to elaborate on his feelings he said: "It is only when you see your family, your friends, your wife, it puts it all into context and that is when the emotion kicks in. Then you look into the dressing room and you realise those guys in there, they are your family and friends. That's what sets the GAA aside from everyone else and it is just amazing."
At half-time of the final, the custom of recognising the 25th anniversary of the Ulster winning team was continued. It just so happened it was Monaghan back in 1988, the last team from the county to take Ulster.
Clerkin recalled that day. His dad Hugo retired a year earlier and father and son watched the final from the old-fashioned grass bank. His uncle Ray McCarron was playing that day, and now his son – Dick's cousin Jack – is on the panel.
He is one of the 19 panel members that weren't even born at the time of the last Ulster title.
"It's been too long," reflected Clerkin. "The minors won today and it's a double for Monaghan football that has never happened. It's a new chapter now for Monaghan football."
To get this far has taken years of painstaking work. Nobody poured more of himself into the task than former manager Seamus McEnaney and Clerkin was delighted to see him in the stand after the game.
"I gave him a big hug and told him his name was on the trophy as much as anyone else. You talk about Damien Freeman, Gary McQuaid, JP Mone, Dermot McArdle – great men, all deserved to get an Ulster title, but they didn't," he said.
"This took eight years to get us from where we were up to a level that year-on-year you could build that little bit extra."
With the game entering the final stages, Clerkin stood on the sideline getting a detailed briefing from manager Malachy O'Rourke as he prepared to be introduced. His instructions were simple.
"It was mainly to look after Karl Lacey," he revealed.
"He was one player that was going to drive them on for the last 15 minutes and try to get a score."
Whatever about frustrating Donegal's play, Monaghan imposed themselves upon the champions here, inflicting only their second Championship defeat in the Jim McGuinness era. It was said they were superhuman, but Clerkin and Monaghan never truly believed that.
He said: "Maybe Donegal will admit themselves – and people will look back and analyse that the cracks were there. Key players weren't fit as they were last year, which was a key thing for their game, but we had to get ourselves in a position where we could exploit that.
"The training that we done, the mental strength that we had, gave us that."
In many ways, they were glad to come in under the cover of darkness.
"We have always played better when we're the underdog. There were times that we were built up as favourites and we did not cope with that," he said.
"I've been involved in the last 14 years and played second fiddle to Armagh, then Tyrone, then Donegal passing us by and leaving us in their wake. Now we have finally stepped up. We will celebrate this, take a couple of days at it, these things have to be celebrated."
Monaghan deserve it, for their persistence and their bravery, but they don't want to leave further silverware behind in a haze of parties.
"If we can repeat performances like that, maybe we can dream the unbelievable and go all the way," said Clerkin.