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Monaghan star finally making a mark after 'massively frustrating' series of setbacks

Jack McCarron: “I was starting to consider what was going wrong or what I was actually doing.”

MONAGHAN HAVE WON two Ulster senior football titles since Jack McCarron joined the panel in 2012, but thanks to a litany of injury problems, the Currin forward has yet to play a part in a provincial triumph with his county.

When it wasn’t the shoulder it was the cruciate. When it wasn’t the hamstring it was the ankle. McCarron has endured a difficult career as a senior inter-county footballer, a large chunk of which he has spent on the sidelines. But 2017 looks like it could be a turning point.

Jack McCarron and Neil McGee Jack McCarron under pressure from Donegal's Neil McGee during the Allianz League. Source: Presseye/Trevor Lucy/INPHO

Having undergone ankle surgery last August, McCarron made his latest comeback for Monaghan as a substitute in February’s draw with Cavan in Division One of the Allianz Football League. Since then it’s been a case of so far, so good for the Bank of Ireland employee.

McCarron kicked a total of 3-29 after starting in Monaghan’s remaining five league games, including 1-9 against All-Ireland champions Dublin — the highest individual tally that any player contributed this season in the top tier.

He’s had enough setbacks to deter him from tempting fate, but at 25, McCarron hopes that his injury problems are a thing of the past after a “massively frustrating” few years.

“I was starting to consider what was going wrong or what I was actually doing,” admits McCarron, whose scoring contribution in Division One was only bettered by Dublin’s Dean Rock and Kerry’s Paul Geaney.

“I just had to be mentally right. You just have to go back at it. It takes a wee while to get over the initial phase. But once you give a couple of days getting over the initial phase then you can get on with the training and try to get back after the rehab and get everything right.”

Missing out on Monaghan’s Ulster title victories of 2013 and ’15 was disappointing for McCarron, but simultaneously the achievements of his team-mates kept him motivated at times when he couldn’t afford to be complacent on the road to recovery.

He says: “It was frustrating, but if Monaghan weren’t going as well you might have slackened off with the rehab. When they’re going well you just want to play with them and it gives you the appetite to get back as well.”

While he was on the comeback trail, McCarron sought to avoid discussing his battle to return to the Monaghan jersey. However, given that his father Ray, sister Ellen, uncle Hugo Clerkin and cousin Dick Clerkin have all won Ulster medals, that was never likely to happen.

“The whole family is very good to me,” McCarron explains. “I probably took it out on them a wee bit too much. You’d probably get frustrated with them asking you questions. Personally I didn’t really like talking about it to anyone, I just wanted to keep my head down and get through it all myself. That was probably tough on them as well.”

eir GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championships Launch Jack McCarron was speaking at the 2017 Eir GAA football championship launch. Source: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

He adds: “Dick would have been a very big influence. I suppose when I first came onto the Monaghan panel he was established there and would have been a great help. I suppose the likes of himself, Eoin Lennon, Paul Finlay, and Vinny Corey, with the way they conducted themselves in training.

“When I got onto the panel it showed me and all the young boys on the panel how hard you had to work. Their no-nonsense attitude to training really showed through in that Monaghan team.”

Clerkin had previously spoken of delaying his retirement in order to experience some success with Monaghan with his younger cousin. Nevertheless, with his injury issues leaving the road ahead looking unclear for McCarron, Clerkin eventually called it a day at the age of 34 at the end of last season.

“That didn’t work out too well. Maybe he was holding me back!” McCarron laughs. “No, it would have been nice to get a couple of years together but that didn’t work out.”

His substantial contribution on the scoreboard during the league was merely a bonus for McCarron, whose only aim at the start of the season was to accumulate as many minutes on the field as possible. Wins over Mayo, Kerry and Roscommon, as well as draws against Donegal and Cavan, meant that only Dublin finished with more points than Monaghan.

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“Just getting game-time was the main thing,” McCarron says. “The main focus was just on getting back, playing football, getting a consistent run of games. It’s been a number of years since I’ve gotten a number of games under my belt.

“I’d always go back into training and then something else would set me back so it was just great to get a number of league games under my belt. That was the main aim, to get back out on the field playing games.”

As for being Monaghan’s main scoring outlet — something normally associated with Conor McManus — McCarron says: “I suppose I was getting on the end of more of the moves than the rest of the lads. They were handing me the ball and I was getting it over the bar.

“Conor laid off a few balls to me as well. He was more of a playmaker there for a wee while. It was nice to be playing alongside him as well.”

Jack McCarron Jack McCarron scored 3-29 in five games in this year's Allianz Football League. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

McCarron chipped in with two points in Monaghan’s victory over Fermanagh last month of the preliminary round of the championship. Cavan will be looking to prevent them from taking the next step towards regaining the provincial crown at Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday, but McCarron is keeping his targets modest for now at least.

“Just to keep injury free hopefully, keep ticking over,” he says. “It’s been massively enjoyable. I’ve been sitting there for the past number of years and it’s just great to be back out on the field playing.”

The 25-year-old adds: “We had a wee bit of time before the first game against Fermanagh and were just concentrating on getting over the line.

“It was obviously a tough game against them. In the Ulster Championship every game is a complete battle and this game against Cavan is going to be a big game for us, we’re just hoping to put a big performance in.”

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