“Any chance of a photo,” I called out to the man of the hour, Jack McCarron. The last time I spoke to him was four weeks ago. He was laid on the couch just days after his appendix was removed following emergency surgery at Enniskillen Hospital. Bad luck had cruelly thwarted his season for the umpteenth time.
n Clones, not for the first time in his career, Jack defied medical advice to recover and achieve excellence.
Although it ultimately took his dramatic winner in the last game to separate the teams, Monaghan was the deserved winner in Clones. They took control of a game through a combination of sheer defiance in defense coupled with individual inventiveness in attack.
Conor McCarthy would have picked up the MVP award for his box-to-box exploits any other day. His opening point from the game calmed nerves at the Monaghan Terraces after Dublin’s whirlwind start. Moments later, Inniskeen’s Sean Jones marked his first start in a senior jersey with a superb cameo goal to give Monaghan a lead they would never give up.
When their starting team was named ahead of the throw-in, there would have been more than a few worried Monaghan onlookers. Taking into account the late injury-related absences, the win was even more impressive. Regulars Kieran Duffy, Michael Bannigan and Conor McManus had to sit out but were cleverly replaced by the bench.
Niall Kierans defeated a laterally ineffective Brian Fenton while Drew Wylie put on a throwback performance to keep Dublin forwards at bay.
Jack McCarron was a surprise starter after his five-week hiatus, and not even his shamelessly biased family could have expected him to deliver.
I’d been used to watching him do all sorts of magic with the club over the years, but even by his standards his return was special. His marker, Michael Fitzsimons, won’t be fondly remembered, but he received little protection from a Dublin defense that was leaky all afternoon.
Dublin can’t say they weren’t warned, which Jack can do. In 2017 he put on a similar five-star show when he destroyed Philly McMahon – 1-9 since you asked. That day, Philly’s teammates were on call to save his blush and claim an undeserved win. Philly’s longtime pal Fitzsimons got similar McCarron treatment.
Unfortunately for the Cuala club man, Dublin reserves aren’t as high as they were in 2017. Jack’s double-digit return was enough this time to get the job done.
Leading up to the game, I was asked a few times what is the key to Monaghan’s continued success? “Duty” was the word I used to sum it all up. The sense of duty in Monaghan football has players like Darren Hughes, Karl O’Connell and Drew Wylie literally squeezing every last drop out of their Monaghan jerseys. Mid-30s, young families, eventful professional life. For many reasons, they have nothing to do with what they do. This collective effort proved to be the difference in the end.
In contrast, one cannot get over how much the absence of Dublin is currently being felt. Regardless of their undisputed brilliance over the past decade, this defeat will hurt. James McCarthy, Fitzsimons and Johnny Cooper may never play Division 1 football again and this confirmed beyond a doubt that their successors are made of utterly inferior stuff.
Especially considering it wasn’t necessarily a strong Monaghan side that made them look average for large parts. The Summer Ball is a new game, however, but how they collectively react to this ignominious relegation is unknown.
For Monaghan, days like this should be savored and celebrated. The Drews, Darrens and Karls of this Monaghan world won’t be around much longer. Like me before them, these guys will sometimes wonder why they keep going when there are so many other reasons to put it behind. Days like this in Clones are the reason.
Maybe it’s not an All-Ireland medal and maybe, like me, they’ll never be able to follow in the footsteps of their esteemed opponents. It does not matter. It never did. Giving as much as you have, while you can, is the Monaghan way. When the cutlery brings nice and good. If not, shake the hand of the team that beats you and try again the following year.
They shook hands with the Dublin players as winners and, like the ambassadors of football that they are, I have no doubt that Dessie Farrell and his team were merciful in defeat.
As for Jack, luckily he took the time to snap this photo with his cranky old cousin and two wide-eyed boys. Another Clones memory to add to the collection.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/monaghan-may-never-win-an-all-ireland-but-days-like-this-make-it-all-worthwhile-41492884.html Dick Clerkin: Monaghan may never win an All-Ireland, but it’s all worth it on days like this