As brave as Emmet

December 31, 2005

Stephen Gollogly of Monaghan
Carrick Emmets and Monaghan star Stephen Gollogly says he was lucky in 2005. Needless to say, he hopes his 'luck' continues in the coming year as he sets about cementing his progress at senior level. Twelve months ago, Stephen Gollogly hadn't a lot to look forward to on the football front - or so he thought. The pangs of a long Autumn mulling over defeat to Cavan in the Ulster Under 21 championship niggled away at his innate optimism and wearing the county colours again seemed a long way off into the distance. "Losing to Cavan was a very big let down, especially going out in the first round. "We just didn't perform at all," Monaghan's outgoing Under 21 captain explains. But as the fallen leaves gave way to frosty, snow-laden nights, others were busy running the rule over his talent and potential. It took a while for the darkness to turn to light though in Stephen's own mind. "My one and only goal at the start of the year was to do well with the under 21s but when it came to the bit the forwards didn't produce the form they had been showing earlier in the year and that, I thought, was that as far as the county scene went." And, initially, things did go from bad to worse for the exciting young attacker. "I had a fairly bad injury at the start of the year which set me back. "It was diagnosed as Gilmore's groin and I was referred to Mr. McEntee but he advised me that I didn't need an operation just three full months rest." So from October 2004 to the far side of January '05, there was little cheer, football-wise, for the flying forward. But things looked up in a big way as 2005 sped forward. The trial matches staged by Monaghan supremo Seamus McEnaney and his think-tank went very well - so well in fact that he was drafted into the senior county squad for the 2005 NFL series. Experience was duly garnered in the league with a few niggly injuries for comfort into the bargain. It was in a challenge game in the run up to the championship against Galway that Gollogly cemented his tenancy in Monaghan's elite group of footballers. Against none other than seasoned All-Ireland SFC medallist Sean Og de Paor - a football icon down the years for Stephen - the inventive Carrick ace shone like a beacon at centre-forward - his preferred position. The Galway outing was timely and his performance probably clinched Stephen's place on the Monaghan team down for championship duty against Derry in Clones. Some 20 year olds might have been a bit awestruck by such a lightning quick elevation up onto centre stage. Nerve-wreaking one supposes? "I was a bit nervous but once the ball was thrown in and I got into the action, it was just like another game, like playing at Emmet Park." At the wrong end of a resounding defeat to the Oak Leafers, Gollogly and co. were left to lick their wounds and leave most of the post-mortems to their success-starved fans. But, of course, Stephen himself has his thoughts on what made the difference at St. Tighernach's Park. "We couldn't contain paddy Bradley, simple as that. We didn't put enough pressure on the fellas supplying the ammunition to him - it was the fault of everyone on the team that he did so much damage. "He was getting quality ball into him all the time and we paid the price for that." After the euphoria of their victory in the NFL Division Two final over Meath, the Ulster SFC upset must have been a real downer? "Expectations were high all round, among the supporters and the players but we weren't taking on any teams of duds. "The Derry players all had great pedigree with fellas like Gerard Kane and Mark Lynch part of the minor team that won the All-Ireland in 2002. "They went into the game as favourites and came out winners and deservedly so." Stephen describes Monaghan's subsequent All-Ireland qualifying round encounter with London as a "no win" clash and one the team "just needed to get over." The game against Louth thereafter wasn't overly pleasant either. "I didn't really enjoy it until it was over, to be honest. "It was a great occasion in Breffni Park with about 15,000 people there and a lovely sunny evening but we didn't play well and although I thought we were the better team on a player by player basis, we still needed a goal from Hugh McElroy to see us safely through," he recalls. And his summary of the Tyrone game which signalled the end of their championship campaign? "I thought a lack of experience told on us that day and they had a bit more mental toughness about them too. "We played some good stuff to get ahead of them by a point at half-time but then their cuteness kicked in and we got it hard to stick with the pace." An obvious admirer of the talents of the aforementioned Kane and Lynch, the self-same Gollogly has steadily augmented his own personal fan club since starring himself on the underage front at college level. For several years, he was a leading light on Patrician High School college teams which secured a succession of Ulster titles from under 13 to under 16. In tandem with fellow would-be county senior James Conlon, the now University of Limerick-based Construction Studies pupil helped the south Monaghan bastion of academia and sporting excellence scoop the northern province's premier college title, the Rannafast Cup. That period of Stephen's football career remains a stand-out episode for him as, in addition, he won a county under 16 league and championship double with his beloved Emmets. That said, an acquaintance with the other side of the coin did visit him - along with the aforementioned Conlon and senior county team-mate Sean Downey - shortly afterwards with defeat in two county minor finals. A grand nephew of former Killanny legend Johnny McGuinness and son of erswhile Carrick Emmets Chairman, Peter Gollogly, Stephen's gravitation into the hurly-burly world of club, college and county football was practically pre-ordained. Blessed with the skill, metntal toughness and ambition to stand out on the football field, the young Gollogly made light of his diminutive frame which some alleged would hinder the development of his football career. "The question of my stature never really bothered me. "People had said that the likes of James McCartan of Down and Mickey Linden were a bit on the small side and wouldn't ever make that big of an impact but they went onto win All-Irelands and be two of the best footballers in the country for a time. "With the proper training and weights programme, you can be small but still more than strong enough to do well at the highest level," the 5'7" and 68kg speedster affirmed. The much vaunted attacker boasts a wise head on young shoulders and he seems comfortable in taking all the plaudits that came his way over the past year in his stride. So is he anticipating much more of the same in the coming year? "I'm not into any crystal ball-gazing but hopefully 2006 will see us repeat some of our better performances of 2005. "We'll all be trying our best to keep progressing and building on the league and championship run." But having tasted a certain flavour of the big time when taking the scalp of Meath at Croke Park and walking away with league medals, one wonders will Gollogly and co. still have the necessary hunger and ambition to rocks some well-padded boats this coming year? "Definitely. There's none of the lads I know that'll be happy or satisfied just with the league medal in their back pockets. "I know that the team-management will be pressing for some championship glory next year; that'll be the goal, I'm sure, just in the same way that getting promotion in the national league was the number one objective in 2005." Stephen confesses to looking forward to joining up with the panel again for collective training ahead of the forthcoming 2006 NFL season. He feels very comfortable among the rest of the panellists and is happy that there is a "good spread" of players in the panel from around the county, something he feels wasn't always the case during the reign of past county team-managements. So what has this Monaghan outfit got going for itself that other counties ought to respect this coming season? "We're a young, speedy, keen and very hungry group of players and a team-management who are all Monaghan men who have a passion for the county and a pride in the jersey," he responds in a matter-of-fact way. Stephen is looking forward to county training but he recognises that it'll be tough again. In preparation for the battle to hold down a place on the team, he will have undergone his own weights regime in the local gym in Carrick. From August to November he'll concentrate on building up his body in readiness for the rigours on the contests which lie ahead. "If you don't prepare then you won't excel on the field of play. "I've a lot to work towards in the coming year, like holding down a permanent place on the team. "I was lucky the way things went for me last year and I can't afford to be complacent about my form or my place in the squad next year."

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