Niall McCoy: For our readers, just give us an update of what Ciarán Hanratty is at these days.
Ciarán Hanratty: I live in Dublin and I work in financial services with Grant Thornton. I am based up here but I’m still playing club football at home in Castleblayney. I was just starting to get up and down the road for training with a view to the league starting but that has very much been thrown up in the air. So it’s the inside of the small apartment with my wife, that’s as far as we are seeing apart from a bit of a walk or run in the evening.
NMcC: My first memory of you, and I’m sure for a lot of people, was at half-time in the 2005 MacRory Cup final on BBC when they showed the highlights of the MacLarnon Cup final. Your Our Lady’s, Castleblayney side defeated St Patrick’s, Keady 4-1 to 0-10 and you had a massive game. I’m sure that was one of the weirdest matches that you ever played in?
CH: I thought you were going to say your first memory was the ponytail! It was a really bizarre game. We only played well in spells but when we went forward it seemed to open up. It was one of those weird games in Casement, it was kind of windy, a wee bit damp, and we just seemed to land sucker-punches. It was just a strange game. They had a couple of really great players but when they got close to us we were able to get up the field and get goals, and that one point of course! We felt we didn’t do ourselves justice and we put up a higher tally in the All-Ireland semi-final against Scoil Dara, Kilcock, 2-12 or something. Ciaran Hughes, Nudie’s son, was half-back and full-back for us and he was incredible in the second half. We put up a decent score in the final too against Abbey CBS. I ended up living with one of the Keady lads, Jason O’Neill, and I got a fair bit of slagging about the hair on his stag about a year and a half ago. There were a right few Granemore boys on it. The guy that played wing-back for Kilcock in the All-Ireland semi-final, Dave Wynne, was also on Jason’s stag so it was strange the way it worked out. They had lived together in Singapore so I got a bit of slagging off him too.
NMcC: Just on the ponytail, we were still probably at the stage of black boots so it did make you stand out. I’m sure you did get a fair bit of chat about it. What happened to it?
CH: It didn’t particularly bother me. There were a few of us into our music at that stage and we really didn’t pay any heed to it, there was no slagging that wouldn’t have been happening anyway. I lost a bet, or won it depending on how you want to look at it. I was made the captain early in the year and the lads said that if we won the MacLarnon that I’d have to let them cut it off. I said ‘no bother lads’ but I don’t think the school had been getting past the quarter-finals in those times so I wasn’t too worried. At half-time in the MacRory I was doing an interview with Jerome Quinn, I think it was, and Eddie Kelly, our manager. A few of the lads were on the sideline and just before we went on the air, one of them shouted out to ask about having to cut off the ponytail. It was on the record so come that night it was cut.
NMcC: You mention music there. I know you were a keen competitor in Scór in your younger days but were you ever in a band or anything like that?
CH: I was never massively in bands or even massively into traditional music although I think our ballad group got to an Ulster final in Silverbridge. My dad would be very into theatre and musicals so I would have done a lot of singing when I was growing up, shows and school musicals and stuff like that. I have done a few since. I would have been, and still am, quite into that scene but I don’t really get the time to do that now. When you’re travelling up and down the road for training you don’t have that many free evenings. In Dublin you have lots of outlets but you don’t have the time to give to them. I did join a musical society a few years ago but after a couple of weeks it became clear that if you wanted to be involved you would have been needed a few more evenings. I let it slide but you never know, I might reappear in a few years.
NMcC: I know you played a bit of basketball growing up too and I suppose Stephen O’Hanlon has given it a bit of profile in Monaghan. Did you ever play it seriously?
CH: It was pretty simple. The main PE teacher in Our Lady’s, basketball was kind of his sport and that was what he coached. We would have played it from 10, 11 years of age right up until we were in fourth or fifth year. Basketball would have gotten precedence in our school and it only really turned to football with the work Eddie Kelly has put in and that MacLarnon win and the school winning it again in 2015. We would have played a lot if it but we were never on anything like the level of someone like Stephen O’Hanlon, he’s a pretty talented guy.
NMcC: You were still very young when you were called into the Monaghan squad and you made your championship debut against Armagh in 2006. Did you just get a call from Seamus McEnaney or how did it come about?
CH: We played Dublin in a challenge game around Hallowe’en in ’05 and I was in from around then. That was the first get together and then we were on trial and training away through the winter. I played a little bit in ’04 with ‘Blayney when I was still minor but I didn’t properly play until after I had my leaving cert finished in 2005. I played that summer with the club and I played with DCU when I started college that September. I was thrown into one or two of the Ryan Cup games very unexpectedly, to be honest, Niall Moyna and Declan Brennan showed a bit of faith in me. That did me no harm, ‘Banty’ saw something he liked and I came on in a good few games in the McKenna Cup and the league in 2006. The Armagh replay game in Clones was the first bit of championship action I saw.
NMcC: McGeeney, McGrane, Tony McEntee – these are big men you are being thrown in against. You were such a young lad so I’m sure it was some wake-up call.
CH: I remember coming on in our first McKenna Cup game against Derry in Clontibret and I was marking Sean Marty Lockhart for about 10 minutes. That was a good awakening and you don’t be long learning even as a green young lad at 18 or 19. You soon find out that you need to bulk up, get a bit stronger and learn your trade. Coming on that often that year allowed me to learn an awful lot because I wouldn’t have played county u-21 before I was with the seniors, so I never had experienced football at that level. I learned a ton in training even just marking the likes of Dermot McArdle and Gary McQuaid. I learned an awful lot in those first six, nine, 12 months.
NMcC: Moving into 2007 and you’re edging towards being a starter. You grabbed a goal in the National League opener against Roscommon, and then you started the Ulster Championship against Down. It was Newry, it was some day and it was the perfect debut as you hit 2-1 from play.
CH: It was kind of exactly what you picture as a kid. The sun was beating down, Newry is a brilliant, brilliant ground to play in and the crowd is right on top of you. The atmosphere was special and it was a cracking Down team that knocked Tyrone out in the first round the following year. It was real proper football and things obviously went well for me, I got on the end of a couple of moves. Everybody dreams of playing well on sunny days in front of big crowds when there is something at stake, so it was one of those really enjoyable days.
NMcC: You followed it up with a win over Derry, and beating Derry in the championship was something Monaghan didn’t do at the time, to set up an Ulster final with Tyrone. It was the first time the county was in the final since 1988 so I’m sure there was some buzz.
CH: I was in college in Dublin and you’re a bit away from things during the year but I was back home for the summer and you got to pick up on the excitement. I really enjoyed the build-up, I didn’t have any nerves; I just looked forward to it. The Ulster final had been in Croke Park for the two year previous so there was a bit of a buzz because it was the return of the Ulster final to Clones. It was new for all of us but it was a sickener of a day. The other side of it was that we were playing one of the best sides of all time, Tyrone from 2003 to 2009, 2010. You never think that at the time of course because you always fancy yourself when you run into them.
NMcC: The response was good. Monaghan got over Donegal and then all of a sudden you’re at Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry.
CH: As a county we weren’t that used to going to Croke Park. We had played Meath in a league final there earlier in the year and hadn’t played that well. It was nice to have played there before the Kerry game and be semi used to it. I remember after the Donegal we were in the Nuremore and the draw was made and when we got Kerry there was a real excitement. They had won the All-Ireland the previous year, they had been in four of the previous five finals. You’re really playing the big boy here. We were really looking forward to seeing where it would take us and it took us pretty close. It’s one we left behind. It was only when you text me last week to say it was online that I actually went and watched it. I hadn’t seen it before and it was definitely worse than I remembered.
NMcC: You had a very good game, won that early penalty, but you came in at the last minute for Conor McManus. Was that a late call by Seamus?
CH: No, to be fair I had a middling enough Ulster final against Tyrone and ‘Mansy’ came in for me in the Donegal game. I think I came on at half-time. We had known that in the run-up. It was the same thing for Kerry, we knew that I was starting but it hadn’t been announced. I was really looking forward to getting out in Croke Park, playing the best team in the country at the best venue. That is what elite sport is all about, seeing if you’re good enough. It was a bizarre day because there was a torrential downpour for 10 minutes before half time and then in the second half it was scorching, so we got a bit of everything. It was Limerick and Waterford in the All-Ireland Hurling semi-final after us so for the final 20 minutes the place was jammed and the atmosphere was unreal. We were coming in as massive underdogs and there was the sniff of an upset and the crowd fed off that. Brilliant to play in but a sickener to leave behind.
NMcC: That was a busy year for you. I’m sure after the Kerry game, ‘Blayney’s run to the county final was a good distraction.
CH: That was the last time we were there. We were straight back in after the run with Monaghan and then you’re on another high with the club. It came to an abrupt end because I came down with glandular fever the week of the final against Clontibret. I managed to play the final but it was the last football I played for four or five months. I had been gung-ho from January right through and then there was a sudden lockdown.
NMC: Martin Corey marked you in that final, you were hot property in Monaghan but that glandular fever ruined your next pre-season. That must have messed a bit with your momentum?
CH: It probably took me to around April or May of 2008 to be properly over it and you don’t realise at the time how much it takes out of you. I couldn’t move for about two or three weeks after the county final, it was almost like a hangover. I just took a bit of time, it was what it was and by the time summer came around it was just a difficult time. We played Fermanagh in the first round, it was in the middle of my exams and there just seemed to be a lot going on. I think I came on at half-time in that game and probably did okay and I was building. It was only really at that stage that I was feeling like myself and maybe becoming an option again.
NMC: That season was nearly déjà vu from 12 months later only it was a round earlier when you lost to Kerry. I suppose your miss is what people maybe remember. You skinned your man, it would have been one of the best goals of the summer but it just went the wrong side of the post. Did that impact you much?
CH: For me, to be honest it didn’t particularly bother me. Obviously you’re annoyed when you miss a chance but at the end of the day you get picked to be the player that you are and as a forward your job is to go out to score and you have to back yourself to do that. If you think something is on you have to go for it and there are times when it will go well and there are times when you miss. That’s the nature of football, you can’t retreat and hide from trying to take those opportunities. It didn’t cost me a lot of thought. It’s never been something that I have felt I needed to deal with. We played Kerry on the day and pushed them pretty close and we just didn’t get there. If that shot goes in then, yeah, we are in a better position to go on and win the game but loads of those things happen every game.
NMC: The run to the 2010 Ulster final, and the subsequent loss to Tyrone, was probably the last big push in Seamus McEnaney’s first term. How was your relationship with him?
CH: I would have a lot of time for him, I think you’ll always have a soft spot for the person who gives you your first chance. I enjoyed playing under him, it was a brilliant five years. Even in ’05 when the guys had a good run in the championship and they won a National League title too, it was great to watch. Monaghan weren’t coming from a great base in 2004 so it was great to see this, big days in Croke Park. That year was the start of a journey that really lifted Monaghan, lifted them into Division One, lifted them to play the best counties, lifted them to compete with Kerry, one of the all-time great teams. Seamus brought together brilliant management teams, people like Paul Grimley and Marty McElkennon, who brought us to another level in terms our training and what was expected and required.
NMC: Eamon McEneaney was the next manager in and although you played quite a bit in 2012, you had a fair few injuries during that time. Did the likes of those groin problems just hamper the rest of your Monaghan career?
CH: In 2012 I had a pretty decent run of it but I just didn’t get the couple of breaks I needed in terms of getting in. I felt I was moving pretty well. A few weeks after we were knocked out by Laois, I was playing a club game and I felt a soreness. It just got progressively worse over the next couple of weeks and I struggled through to try and do the best that I could for the club for the rest of that year. I had Gilmore’s groin injury and the little tear that comes with that, and that limits you. The timing was bad because it was after the 2012 county season and there was a change of management happening at that stage and I fell a bit between the cracks. It was left to me to go and sort the injury and one of the Dublin guys I was in college with put me in contact with Gerry McEntee in the Mater. I went to see him, it must have been around October time, and he did the test and the check and he told me I needed an operation. He told me that I probably wouldn’t do a whole pile more damage, I think we had two games left with the club so I played those two and then booked in for the operation. It took place in December of that year and it got rid of that groin injury.
NMC: That management change you talk about was Malachy O’Rourke coming in. I remember doing a piece with you a few years ago and you were putting your hand up to say you’d still like to be on his radar. You never ended up playing under him though did you?
CH: I was involved at the very, very start, the group kind of getting together for fitness testing and the S&C stuff. I was limited in what I could do because that was mid-November, early December. If you have an injury at that stage you can fall away, confusion over who is looking after it and things like that. My view was that it was my body so it was up to me to get it fixed and I took it on myself to get the advice of the best person in the country. I was trying to get it done as early as I could so I would be back playing football as soon as possible for Castleblayney and, I would have hoped, Monaghan. But between that, sitting my final chartered tax exams and living in Dublin with a work commitment that was going to put me under pressure for a couple of months, I said I wouldn’t be able to do anything for the next few months. The surgeon had laid out a programme so I couldn’t run or anything, I had to trust what he was telling me. I stepped away after a couple of weeks, maybe in December, when I knew there wasn’t much of an option. I never got the shot again.
NMC: So was that the last contact, it fell away then?
CH: Kind of. There was a small bit of contact around April of that year after the end of the National League. There seemed to be some appetite to potentially consider a return, and I was back playing for the club by then, but it never materialized. I didn’t really get a shot. I did put myself out there and I did make it known that I was available and I wasn’t retired because I was only 27 or 28. I did go and attend a trial game in Cloghan along with my brother, but yeah, I obviously didn’t fit the bill of what they are looking for. I probably still felt that I had plenty to offer and if I was fit and able I would have loved to have played again. I loved my time with Monaghan, I loved to represent my county.
NMC: I was talking to a coach recently and obviously you preceded him, but he said you reminded him a bit of Jamie Clarke in that you were your own man, you had your own interests and football was not going to dictate your life. Is that fair comment, did you feel that football was part of life rather than being your life?
CH: I say if you asked my wife that question she’d give you the answer! I have lots of interests but football still has been the huge, number one thing for me for a long time. My attitude has always been that you can only play for a certain period. We will all be retired long enough, so do that. Eamon McEneaney, he would have taught me in school, and he used to talk, and he was chatting in a different context, about playing as long as you can because everything else is secondary. I still love coming up from Dublin to play and train with the club and it’s a great opportunity to stay connected with home and the community. I have no plans to stop playing, I’m only 33, so I hope to be about for another long while until the body allows. I’m still hooked.