Monaghan will show we aren’t a spent force, says Clerkin
When he bounds onto the Clones turf this Sunday to face Antrim, a number of milestones will be reached in the career of Monaghan veteran Dick Clerkin.
After the retirement of Brian Dooher and Enda Muldoon over the winter, the Currin clubman takes up the mantle of the longest-serving player in Ulster.
He made his debut in 1999, a day when they lost 1-10 to 2-12 to Fermanagh, and although having missed out on one year in between, he now launches his 13th Championship season.
Having been absent for that 2003 win over Armagh, he has an unwelcome statistic of never winning a game of Ulster Championship football in Clones, despite reaching two Ulster finals. It’s also his first time to play Antrim in a major fixture.
“Along with Limerick, they are the only team I haven’t played in league or Championship football in my career,” recalls Clerkin.
“There is a novelty to it, a freshness. For a few years there we were sick looking at the likes of Derry, Fermanagh and Armagh, so there’s no baggage. They probably won’t know much about us and vice-versa.
“You can learn so much from watching DVD’s or whatever in terms of sizing up the opposition, but it’s hard to gauge their qualities.”
While they will meet each in the National League next year, Clerkin feels there are similarities between the two counties with both having massive points to prove to themselves.
“We wouldn’t be too far away from each other in our aspirations and what the outside world thinks of us. We would also think that if things go our way, we get a rub of the green, we can do damage.
“We might have proven that over the years a bit more than Antrim have. They came with a burst in 2009, we know ourselves that they will be anxious to push on, to prove doubters wrong that they were a one-hit wonder,” he said, before turning the spotlight on his own side; “Ourselves, well, we are anxious to show that we are not a spent force, we want to prove that we are ready to come back, that we aren’t a forgotten team.”
Since Eamonn McEneaney took up the management role, they have been shorn of the strongest talent in the county through emigration and injury, winning only four out of nineteen games in league and Championship.
Despite that curious Championship record in Clones, last year’s captain feels that it is not a time to start doubting themselves, pointing to a series of strong performances over the last two years on home turf.
“One positive that we can take is that our record of games in Clones was very good.
“Going back to last year we beat Galway very well, we came close to beating Dublin in the season they went on to become All-Ireland champions and they had a strong team out.
“This year we beat Kildare who were eventual winners of division two, comfortably, as we did Louth.”
Monaghan’s season was blighted further after that impressive win over Kildare, as the punishment handed down to them for their contribution to the unseemly, if ultimately harmless bit of argy-bargy between the two teams, eventually cost them home advantage for their remaining league ties.
“I don’t care what anyone says”, said Clerkin, “It had a big impact. I would have been fairly confident if we had to play Galway at home, which we were supposed to bar the intervention of Croke Park.”
Injury to captain Darren Hughes has severely weakened Monaghan’s hand ahead of the weekend, but the seriousness of his injury — a calcification of the leg — has alarmed Clerkin.
“What’s happened to Darren is bigger than this match at the weekend, it’s bigger than Monaghan football,” he said.
“Players can sometimes be selfish and would be hoping to take a chance, to push themselves, take a chance to strap up or take an injection to get through the pain barrier.
“The temptation might be there, and I’m sure it might be at the back of Darren’s head and some other players that ‘Ah sure, it’s not as bad as it might be’, because people don’t know much about it, it’s such an uncommon injury.
“But he has to be so careful, because the potential risks are astronomical for Darren.”
Playing without key members of the team though has become all too familiar for Monaghan, adds Clerkin.
“We’ve had to play without key players for both seasons; more so this year when we lost our key score-getters up front with Tommy Freeman and Conor McManus. No team in the country can do without their key scoring threats.
“Thankfully we have them back for the Championship, and that can give us an extra dimension up front.”
Monaghan team: M Keogh, D Morgan, V Corey, C Walshe, K O’Connell, D Mone, K Duffy, P Dooney, D Clerkin, M McKenna, S Gollogly, J Turley, C McGuinness, P Finlay (Capt), C McManus.