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Something a bit special is required to win Sam: McEnaney

 

By John Campbell

Pat McEnaney spent two decades as one of the best referees ever to have officiated in Gaelic football, a man who remained consumed by his calling and who still retains a passionate enthusiasm for the sport.

Having handled All-Ireland finals, International Rules fixtures and seemingly countless provincial Championship clashes, McEnaney obtained a rare insight into players' skills, attitudes and personalities.

And after stepping down from the top tier in refereeing eight years ago, he nonetheless continues to take a keen interest in the evolution of football.

Today, the Corduff clubman is in no doubt as to just why the Sam Maguire Cup has remained absent from Ulster for the past six years.

"When you look back at the very good teams which have won All-Ireland titles, they not only contained good footballers but within that squad there were two or three special players at least," insisted McEnaney.

"When I was refereeing in matches in which people like Peter Canavan, Stephen O'Neill, Owen Mulligan, Oisin McConville and Steven McDonnell were playing, I remember that down at the Canal End in particular at Croke Park for some reason the whole temperature of the game would rise when these boys got possession of the ball.

"You always sensed that supporters were expecting the big players to deliver. A team needed those special talents to produce the goods on the big day - cast your mind back to All-Ireland finals and you will see what I mean.

"Look at Dublin today, in Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey they have players who can rise to the big occasion and inspire their colleagues.

"Obviously with Dublin now setting their sights on getting five All-Ireland titles on the trot it is definitely not going to be easy to knock them off their perch.

"Dublin know what it takes to win, they have grown in status and they are aware that every other team is keen to put them down. That makes it harder for those teams with ambitions of trying to achieve that.

"Dublin have an awful lot of good footballers. Everyone knows that they have players on their substitutes bench who would walk into most teams.

"Just take a look at the calibre of some of their players who didn't get to kick a ball in the All-Ireland final."

McEnaney, never a man to fudge an issue, contrasts the success of Dublin over the course of the past four years and the exploits of Tyrone in the Noughties to his own Monaghan team.

"If you look at the present Monaghan side, we have a good team but we have only one special player in there in Conor McManus and he can't be expected to do it all on his own," insisted McEnaney.

"You look at Donegal and they have one special player in Michael Murphy. To be fair, Patrick McBrearty was missing this year and you often wonder if Donegal could have gone further with two special players."

Monaghan have won two Ulster titles since 2013 under Malachy O'Rourke and came within a whisker of reaching this year's All-Ireland final. But McEnaney still believes that in starting from scratch again next year they will face a difficult road in their bid to make the breakthrough at the very top.

And his succinct analysis of the current Tyrone side will certainly provide food for thought within the O'Neill County.

"The present Tyrone set-up has probably the biggest number of good inter-county footballers in its squad but they don't have those special players that you need to deliver on the big days," asserted McEnaney.

"They haven't got a Peter Canavan or a 'Mugsy' in there and neither do Armagh, Down or the other Ulster counties. They don't have those truly gifted two or three players that you really need if you are serious about getting success at the highest level."

McEnaney's desire to see the All-Ireland title return to Ulster is palpable, his passionate rhetoric not just delivered from his mouth but clearly from the heart.

A person's voice can tell you much but their body language can often tell you even more.

"I would love to see the Sam Maguire Cup back in this part of the world and obviously my greatest wish would be to see it end up in Monaghan," he said.

"But I think that there is now a growing realisation that it will take a very special team to achieve this.

"However, when you think about it, was it ever any different? Didn't the great Kerry, Dublin, Down and Meath teams of the past have their two or three iconic players who invariably played a big part in getting them over the line?

"There is no doubt that Ulster teams will have to redouble their efforts if they are to challenge at the top table because other teams will be stepping up their efforts to be in at the death in the All-Ireland next year.

"They know what they have to do and unless players are prepared to make huge sacrifices and give everything to the cause it will be impossible to make significant progress. I think this is an irrefutable fact but yet nothing is impossible. I would urge all teams to have belief, go for it and give it everything."

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