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In Focus – Donegal’s Barry Monaghan

Ronan Scott: The game has changed a lot since you were a player?

Barry Monaghan: From the time I started, and to be fair even when I finished, it is a totally different
animal. You would even say that clubs were doing as much as now as we were doing back
then, 10 years ago. When I started out it is a totally different game with regards training and
preparation.

RS: Because of your family background you were always going to end up playing football, that’s fair to say?

BM: That’s right. My father played for Donegal in the ‘70s.
When you are growing up it was the done thing to play for your club. I played soccer and basketball but there was never any danger because I wasn’t any good. Football was my main sport. It was a natural progression.

RS: Were you always a star player?

BM: I spent two years at u-16, two years at minor, two years in u-21. But I was 22 when I made it into the senior team.

RS: How much support did you get from your family?

BM: To be fair there was a lot of support.  My two brothers played for the club. My elder brother Don, he would have been on the Donegal underage panels the whole way. He was on the senior panel before I got
on it. We weren’t put under any undue pressure. It was always something that we wanted
to do.

RS: Was there competition?

BM: Ah no. We were different players. Don was a defender, I was playing around the middle of the field.
Marcus was coming five years after us. When he was trying to break onto the team we were established. We generally always played on the same team as we all played club football together.

RS: How important was club as a grounding for you?

BM: From an early age we were very well looked after. The club stalwarts like Frank O’Donnell and Gerry Molloy, Peter Callaghan, Colly Bennett, these boys would have done a lot of work for us when we were underage. When you went up through the ranks that was where it all started. At the time when we were playing Four Masters went through a purple patch. We didn’t have any county players for a while, but then at one stage in the early 2000s they had seven or eight players on the county panel, which was a lot. In the early 2000s they had a group of players coming through that was exceptional. You had Karl Lacey, Paul Durcan, Barry Dunnion, Michael Doherty, Benny Byrne. They got onto the senior panel. At the time myself and Shane Carr were already on the panel. They were the backbone of our senior team.

RS: How did you feel about this group coming along?

BM: Myself and Shane were pleased. We would have been travelling back and forth to training on our own. Then all of a sudden when there was two car loads. It was a great buzz. We won a county championship around 2003. To be fair we should have won more. We had the team to win more. Ironically having so many players on the county team hampered us. It took away from the team. When you take seven of your best players out of a team for a season or two it is going to have a
detrimental effect on the club.

RS: What do you remember about the 2003 season, when you won the county championship?

BM: Michael Kelly was manager and he brought a lot of organisation to the set up. I remember that we trained very hard. We had a tough opener. We played our local rivals St Naul’s. I’ve no big recollection of that game as myself and Andrew Gallagher clashed heads and I ended up in casualty. We both had concussion. I think we drew the first game and then we had to go down there and win, and we
did. Things started to snowball. We beat Ardara and we beat St Eunan’s. So we beat all the best teams on the way to the final. We had Termon in the final and we just handled the final a wee bit better than them
and we came out on top. It wasn’t a classic final but that didn’t really matter to us. We played in a final in 2001 against St Eunan’s. It was our first final in a while and we sort of went to pieces. They beat us comprehensively. Going in to the 2003 final that was playing on our mind. We were determined not to
leave it behind. A lot of players were important, Barry Dunnion and Karl (Lacey) and Michael
Doherty, Paul Durcan in goal. Then you had Don (his brother), and Shane Carr and Noel Carr. We had a good mix. Most of the guys were around mid 20s. The guys coming up were exceptional. It was great for the club, and for all the people who had put in a lot of work down the years.

RS: When did you get the call up to play for the county?

BM: Mickey Moran was the manager. There was a new backroom team and there was a panel picked in 1999 and I went over for trials. The league was in November then. I made my debut against Offaly in
Ballybofey, on a bad, bad day.

RS: What were your impressions of Mickey?

BM: I liked Mickey. I thought he was sincere and humble. He was a passionate fella. He was a fantastic coach. I am appreciative of him giving me a chance. His training methods were ahead of their time. He did a lot of stuff with the ball, but you found that you were always in good shape. I got on well with him. He gave me a chance even though I had no senior experience. He took everyone as he found them. He didn’t take on any reputations. He also took in John Morrison. John was very kind of innovative.
They thought about football. They looked at people first and then the football.

RS: What did you learn from them?

BM: That there was more than one way of doing things. John had a different way of approaching things.
The two of them thought outside the box. They thought that there was more than one way to train a team, and more than one way to approach a situation.

RS: What can you remember about your first championship match?

BM: I had been playing during the league but then I got myself sent off in a club match a week or two
before our first championship match against Fermanagh (in 2001). So I was suspended for it. By the time my suspension came up, Donegal were in the back door. I came on as a sub late against the second game against Fermanagh. The game was over at that stage. I was only on for five minutes.

RS: So what was your first proper taste of championship action?

BM: We played Kildare down in Newbridge (after beating Fermanagh) and it was a great game of
football. I came on after half time. They beat us by a point. It was a great experience because of the crowd and the noise.

RS: You had a good run in 2002.

BM: We had a great run. We had the Dubs in Croke Park. I came off early in that match because I tore my groin muscle. I was out for at least six months.

RS: You managed to get to the Ulster final that year. What was the key to that good run of results?

BM: We were well coached with regards the ball. We also had two very talented boys inside, Brendan Devenney and Adrian Sweeney. Adrian in particular that year was going very well. We had a good mix around the field. John Gildea around the middle of the field. Paul McGonigle as well who I made my debut with the previous year. Then there was the likes of Brian Roper and Damian Diver.
We had plenty of very good players. Then there was Kevin Cassidy coming in. Christy Toye was coming into the panel at that time.

RS: What sort of group was it?

BM: Look, Donegal got a lot of bad press over the head of the party boys. To be fair, I know there was issues over what happened after the Donegal and Dublin drawn match. That was just a lack of experience. None of the players had been there before at that level, with a full house in Croke
Park. They didn’t know how to handle it. I know there were mistakes made about boys drinking after it and not coming home on the bus, with a short turn around. But hindsight is a great thing. Dublin really turned them over on the second day.

RS: How bad was your injury?

BM: It needed surgery. I did rehab on it and tried to get through club championship but it was no good. It kept breaking down. Then I had to go to a couple of different surgeons and doctors to get to the core of the problem. Eventually Gerry McEntee sorted it out for me. That happened in August it was the following April when I was back playing.

RS: How did you handle being out?

BM: It is part and parcel.To be fair I worked very hard to get back as soon as I could. I came back at the end of the league, and then played all the championship matches in 2003. Recovery was a million miles away from where it is now. Your rehab wasn’t a big a word then as it is now. County players now would be monitored nearly 24 hours a day.

RS: Was there pressure to get back on the team?

BM: Not really. I was just the same as anyone else. I was just trying to get back.

RS: You had a good run in 2003. Did any game stand out?

BM: Probably the game down in Castlebar against Galway. It was a sunny day and turned out to be a great game. Galway were a big team at that time. They had won the All- Ireland a year or two previous.
Donegal were big underdogs. But we got the result. They key to that win was the confidence and the way the boys were playing up front. Devenney played very well. Shane Carr took a ball off the goal line. The feeling that day was the atmosphere was so good. There were a lot of Donegal folk there who had travelled even though it was in Castlebar.

RS: Was it a case back then of getting the ball to the forwards, Devenney and Sweeney?

BM: It was a wee bit. Donegal did play a lot of running football though.Adrian was one of the best forwards in the country at the time. Devenney’s pace was so important. But the boys weren’t big target men. It was generally a case of playing into space. I also remember that there wasn’t a lot of zonal defences. Maybe one sweeper dropping back.

RS: You played Armagh in 2003, but lost. What went wrong?

BM: Armagh beat us in the semi-final. We got a man sent off in that game. That left us a wee bit short. If you are playing one of the top teams in the country and you are a man down it is going to leave it
harder to get the result. We felt that at that stage we were a match for Armagh. But you have to take your hat off to them. We came up against Armagh and Tyrone regularly during my career. We would invariably beat one or the other, but we rarely beat the two together.

RS: Why were Armagh so strong?

BM: They were three or four years ahead of everybody in terms of conditioning. They were more professional than everyone else. They had their training camps. The rest of us were just playing catch up.

RS: Who do you remember playing against?

BM: Usually one of the McEntees or Diarmuid Marsden. They had good players all over the field. They were well drilled. They were a well oiled machine.

RS: When did you get closest to them?

BM: 2003. Brian McEniff took over that year. He has a lot of experience. He was good at managing people. He was good at delegating, and seeing problems before they even arose. He was a good all round manager.

RS: In 2006 you played Armagh in the Ulster final and Cork in the All- Ireland quarter-final.

BM: Yes, Brian McIver was manager at the time. We just came up short against a good Armagh side. They beat us by a couple of goals. To be fair I thought we should have beat Cork in the quarter-final. I thought that we had the better of them on the day. We didn’t have that killer instinct. But Cork were a good team. We just didn’t get over the line. There were a lot of times we should have won but we didn’t. Hindsight is a great thing. Should we have trained harder? Maybe.

RS: Tell me about 2007, the year when you won the league.

BM: Brian McIver came in when things were getting closer to a professional set up. There were more gym sessions, video analysis. Brian took in Ryan Porter. Things were beginning to turn. We won the league in 2007. That was the first time that we had ever won the league. What happened that year was we won the league, and then bottomed out for the championship. We were flat. Donegal had never won a league before. It is different now. That group it was a big deal. We had been striving for championship success but when we saw an opportunity come up in the league we went for it. When you get
to the semi-final and final you want to win it. It probably was a bit detrimental to our championship preparations.

RS: After Brian, John Joe Doherty came in.

BM: He brought the likes of Tony Boyle in with him. They were two well respected players. Two of the best players of their generation. To be fair to them, they came in when players were himming and hawing. Some players didn’t give them the commitment. Although we were all there, they didn’t give it to the jersey or the cause. They weren’t doing what they should have done. Although there were some good performances, after the two years they left. His term was judged more harshly because the man who followed was Jim McGuinness. It dealt more harshly on John Joe than it needed to be. It was probably
unfair. John Joe would be the first to admit he would do things differently, but if you ask some of those players who won All-Irelands with Jim, if they’d given everything under John Joe, they would say they didn’t. There are rights and wrongs on both sides. Being predecessor to Jim was always going to be difficult.

RS: 2009 was an odd year, losing to Antrim and going on a run.

BM: Those things can happen. We had the belief in ourselves. We were in disarray, but you can put a run together. It shows what could have been done. The players were there. Was there any one thing that could have changed that would have made it better? No. It was a combination of things.

RS: When did you decide to stop playing?

BM: I broke my leg in a club match in around 2010. Even if I didn’t break my leg I don’t think I would have been able to give the commitment. We have a tyre business in Donegal. So there was a lot of commitment. At that stage of my life I didn’t have the time.

RS: Your final game was against Armagh.

BM: There was a lot of publicity about the game against Armagh, and the issue with them giving us a tanking in Crossmaglen. It was a sombre day. You would rather not have them.

RS: How different is the modern game to the one you played in.

BM: It is so different now to what it was like then. If a club player was going well back then he’d be called into the county team to see how he was. After four or five weeks he could get up to speed and get his chance. Nowadays you wouldn’t dream of doing that. You can’t take a club player into a team now. He wouldn’t last 40 minutes. The conditioning is totally different.

RS: You were there to see those changes?

BM: There were changes, but even from the time when Jim came in, it has changed again. It is harder for teams like Leitrim and Carlow, it is harder for them to by into the championship. If you are playing for Dublin and Mayo then you are going to give more time.

RS: You were on the team which Michael Murphy made his debut. What did you think of him?

BM: He was a very impressive character, both on and off the field. He didn’t show nerves. He had no problem talking. He was vocal, but not for the sake of being vocal. He was strong, very driven. Did I envisage that he was going to be as good and as consistent as he has been? Probably not. No one has
sustained the level of play that Michael has.

RS: What’s your fondest memory of your career?

BM: Probably the county championship. I had a lot of good days with Donegal. I didn’t win anywhere near as much as I would have liked to have won. The league final was a good win. But I preferred the
championship matches because of the atmosphere and the crowd, and the weather was better.

RS: What’s it like to be a Donegal fan?

BM: I stopped at a great time because it has been the best 10 years in terms of Donegal results. It’s been a fantastic time to be a fan. We had the Jim McGuinness years when we were defensive and everyone wants to know the secret. But now it has come full circle and we are offensive and everyone wants to know our secret of playing attacking football. It’s great. We thought that with big names leaving that we would be in transition but it hasn’t happened. New boys have come in and replaced household names. It shows that no one is irreplaceable when you have a good system. It’s fantastic watching them. We have
had some great days out watching them and hopefully there is more to come.

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