In safe hands
December 31, 2007
Having helped his side to within a whisker of scalping All-Ireland champions Kerry at the quarter-final stage in 2007, Monaghan goalkeeper Shane Duffy is looking forward to continued progress in '08.
Champions for the past two years, Kerry's tilt at three-in-a-row and their own chunk of immortality will begin in the early summer of 2008, as the days grow longer and the smell of championship returns to the air. But talk of a new dynasty in the Kingdom could so easily have been shelved had the bounce of the ball gone Monaghan's way last August, when the underdogs from Ulster were left distraught by a single point defeat at the hands of Pat O'Shea's side. Leading by two with less than ten minutes to go, Monaghan were eventually suckered by two blows from Kerry sub Bryan Sheehan and a fisted effort from Tomas O Se.
Shane Duffy, Monaghan's goalkeeper on the day and for so many days in recent years, recalls the strange mix of disappointment and pride, after a championship in which they threatened to overturn some of the game's ruling powers had skittered to a halt with adulation but no silverware.
He said: "If anyone had told us at the start of the year that we'd have two days at Croke Park, a league semi-final against Meath and an All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, and an Ulster final against Tyrone, and that we should probably have won them all, you'd have snapped the hand off them.
"We did have regrets because we didn't win any of those [games], so we're not going to sit back and rest on that. It could have been an even better year but we're delighted with how we did and pleased to have put a bit of pride back in the county."
Like all Monaghan players on an afternoon when the Kingdom was on shaky ground, Duffy has his moments of rueful contemplation, chief among them the moment when he - like a special teams kicker in American football - was catapulted to centre-stage to have a crack at the posts. There were eight minutes left, Monaghan were leading by one, and point-scoring Duffy cameos had been a familiar sight within the county in recent seasons.
"Personally, my own big regret was the '45'," he says. "I had been warned during the week that I could be asked to take them if Paul [Finlay] wasn't connecting properly. I was fully sure I was going to score it too - it was my chance to impact on the score of the game, but when I missed it I remember jogging back thinking 'I hope that's not a defining moment'.
"The other big moment, from my own point of view, was Kerry's goal [scored by Declan O'Sullivan shortly after half-time]. They had targeted Kieran Donaghy all day and we had dealt so well with the high ball. But it was just one lapse in concentration and we paid for it."
Pushing Kerry close was a surprise to no-one within the Monaghan camp. The team, he insists, lacks for nothing in self-belief, and routinely goes into games against the traditional superpowers convinced they can do rather more than hold their own.
"You can't get caught up in the hype," he said. "If you do, you could get overawed, so you just have to go out there, 15 against 15, and you tell yourself you have do perform your best. Everyone performed as individuals and it all came together well for us. We knew ourselves we weren't inferior to Kerry or Tyrone. A few things went against us, but we always believed we could compete with the best teams in the country.
"Maybe outside the camp we hadn't had the same credibility, but inside, we're certain that we're as good as any team in the country. Looking around at Kerry, Armagh or Tyrone... Why should they be better than us?"
To casual observers from outside the county, such pronouncements may have brought running men in white coats had they been heard at the beginning of the season. And Duffy admits it was a case of small steps making steady progress, with no long-term targets set out for the team before a ball was kicked. "I know it's a cliché," he says, "but we looked at it at the start of the year and set out an agenda to take it one game at a time. It stood us in good stead."
Before he can help Monaghan continue on their upward curve in 2008, Duffy must battle his way back to full fitness, having ended the year in the treatment room with knee ligament damage. Rather than wallow in his misfortune, however, he was relieved that the injury arrived when it did, with the heady days of summer behind him.
"It happened a couple of weeks after the Kerry game," he recalls, "and we were playing against Latton in a [Monaghan county] championship replay. It was innocuous enough. I damaged the lateral ligament, which disrupted the connection between the knee and the calf. But I was told I was lucky not to do my cruciate and I suppose the timing wasn't the worst thing in the world - it would have been worse if it happened at the start of the year and you were playing catch-up."
When he gets back to concert pitch, he is confident about the coming year, his upbeat prognosis stemming from the management team which has moulded Monaghan from also-rans to genuine contenders for provincial and national honours.
"We've had good teams before, maybe not a collective team but good players were always there," he reflects. "So on that front you'd have to look at the job done by Seamus McEnaney, Adrian Trappe and Marty McElkennon. It's a very professional set-up. It's an amateur game, but it's professional in all but name. There is no stone left unturned with the preparation put in for every game. Whether it is London in the league or Roscommon or Dublin, or Kerry or Tyrone in the championship, the preparation for every game is the same and each one is taken very seriously.
"I think Seamus is delighted with our attitude. There's definitely a great mutual appreciation between the players and the management. All the players trust them that they know what they're doing, and they trust us as well.
"We have a common goal, there are no cliques in the squad. That's something that I suppose a lot of teams around the country, club and county, might fall short on. But after this year, it's a big challenge to go forward and build on it. Next year, rather than saying we want to do this and do that, we have to remember what worked for us this year."
Shane Duffy is part of the team in the office agency sector of Atisreal Ireland, responsible for the valuation, letting and management of commercial property. A division of world-renowned company BNP Paribas, Atisreal is Europe's leading provider of integrated commercial real estate services. Atisreal Ireland employs 26 staff at its headquarters in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin.
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