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The two pillars of Monaghan football that have bowed out - 'It's certainly a blow'

Paul Finlay and Dick Clerkin recently retired from the inter-county game.

Monaghan duo Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay both retired recently.
Monaghan duo Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay both retired recently.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

AS GIANTKILLING ACTS go, last July’s feat by Longford against Monaghan in Clones was as dramatic as 2016 produced.

The reigning Ulster champions at the time saw their summer halted in unexpected fashion on their home turf.

That match also had other consequences. It would be the last time that Paul Finlay and Dick Clerkin would be involved as Monaghan senior players on championship day.

The two pillars of Monaghan football have called time on their inter-county careers in recent weeks.

Ballybay player Finlay gave 14 years of service since his eye-catching debut when he shot the lights out in Monaghan’s shock win over Armagh in 2003.

Currin club man Clerkin has been around longer, first lining out in the league in the winter of 1999.

They got their golden days in the sun in recent seasons when Monaghan smashed the ceiling to taste Ulster glory in 2013 and 2015.

And while the pair may not have been as pivotal on the pitch as they once were, their influence in the squad was as strong as ever.

“There’s no doubt that they’ll be a loss in the dressing room,” remarked Monaghan’s star forward Conor McManus, speaking yesterday before flying to the 2016 GAA-GPA Opel All-Stars tour to Dubai.

“They weren’t maybe starting or having the same impact on the field as they would have had over the years but to not have them in the dressing room as leaders, young players coming in looking up to them, it’s certainly a blow.

“The service that they’ve given to Monaghan and the experience that them pair of boys had.

“But look it, Monaghan football’s in a good place at the minute. We’d be hoping that a number of the young fellas would come in and step up to the plate.”

McManus is keen to stress that last point. He’s seen youngsters like Conor McCarthy and Ryan McAnespie – Ulster U21 winners back in April as Monaghan won that particular title for the first time since 1999 – make the step up to senior level.

That helps soothe the wounds from that upset against Longford as thoughts start to drift to 2017, as did confirmation that Malachy O’Rourke is remaining at the helm for a further three years.

“I suppose after a day like that you’re questioning things. You’re thinking ‘Jesus, the amount of time and effort we’ve put into this, and we turn out a performance like that.’

“That was probably the most disappointing thing, and it takes a couple of weeks to get over that initial disappointment.

“And then, when you sit and look at it in the cold light of day, you realise there’s things we can do better and improvements we can make.

“I suppose if Malachy (O’Rourke) didn’t feel that was the case, maybe he wouldn’t have stayed on. But I don’t think it was ever a case that Malachy was going to walk away.

“Like everybody else, he probably just needed time to gather his thoughts and clear his head.”

“Longford were (due) full credit for their victory that day. It was just they were the hungrier team.

“Once a team gets a run on you like that there, it’s hard to stop. Maybe we panicked a wee bit as well, in that we had so much possession in the last 10 or 15 minutes of that game but actually never made it count.

“So it’s something we’ll have to learn from, and probably at some stage next year we will look at that and try and improve from it.

“You just have to get your head down and get working in these months and get ready for January.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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