Monaghan’s Clerkin comes alive in the twilight zone

Dick Clerkin has a growing appreciation of the role of ‘impact sub’ and credits manager Malachy O’Rourke with prolonging his Monaghan career. As the longest-serving inter-county player in the country, Clerkin has clearly done an awful lot right to keep his body up to the abrasive demands of the modern game.
Monaghan’s Clerkin comes alive in the twilight zone

Yet the midfielder has praised O’Rourke for how he’s handled ‘veterans’ like himself and Paul Finlay, who will both be expected to come off the bench in tomorrow night’s Ulster SFC semi-final against Donegal when things get tight.

“Malachy deserves a lot of credit for the way he has managed players like myself and Paul and shown us how there’s still a huge amount to be gained by maybe not having a starting role,” said Clerkin, 34.

“He’s shown us that there are many other ways to contribute. Malachy deserves a lot of credit for that because it’s something a lot of managers aren’t able to do. They let go of players far too soon.”

Mindful of their quality, O’Rourke has squeezed every last drop out of ‘thirtysomethings’ like Clerkin, Finlay, Vinny Corey, Dessie Mone and the recently retired Owen Lennon. Clerkin and Finlay have been lightly raced this year as they attempt to defend their Ulster title, with Finlay’s first appearance of the year coming as a sub against Down at Clones three weeks ago.

A common feature of Monaghan games these days is a memorable cameo from Clerkin, and when he sprang from the bench in the first round humiliation of the Mournemen and kicked a late point, he drew the loudest cheer of the day.

“It’s something I’ve certainly enjoyed in the last few years, to come on and hear the cheers, and be on the pitch and part of that winning team.

“Once you make that transition — and it’s a psychological thing more than anything — and when you get used to not starting, you realise there’s an awful lot to be said for being on the pitch at the end of winning, as supposed to coming off and not having the legs!”

Success has come at the back end of Clerkin’s career, two Ulster titles in three years a fitting reward for a committed player who’s been on the road with his county since September 1999.

Having waited so long to hit the big time, it’s understandable he’s adamant they can’t just slope off into the sunset content with two provincial medals.

“People have this expectation that teams from the weaker counties can’t sustain the high levels of success.

“Most of them do fall away. We haven’t done that, we’ve no intention of doing that. We’re building for the future. The teams in the top tier, they make statements on the pitch and they don’t make any apologies for it.

“We’re a top-five team, we’re the reigning Ulster champions, we’re the reigning U21 champions. We’re very happy with the progress that’s been made in the last three years and we’re here to defend our Ulster title. An Ulster title still means an awful lot to the Monaghan players and supporters.”

Until they take out a big name in Croke Park, however, Monaghan will struggle to convince people they’re All-Ireland contenders.

Clerkin has a different slant on it.

“People get hung up on that but all I know is there’s never been a bad team won an Ulster title. But there’s been a lot of bad teams have got to All- Ireland quarter-finals and beyond!

“Look, an Ulster title means a huge amount to the Monaghan people and this group of players and that’s our ambition first.

“We’ll worry about Croke Park later in the year but for now we’re happy plying our trade in Ulster.”

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