Padraig Hampsey clearly isn’t of a mind that Monaghan were poorly served by referee Anthony Nolan in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
The Wicklow official’s handling of the all-Ulster clash was heavily criticised in the wake of Tyrone’s narrow win.
Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke was just one voice in a chorus of complaints about a number of decisions.
Hampsey was a central player in that narrative. The Tyrone man spent the entire afternoon shadowing Conor McManus and was fortunate not to take more heat from the man in the middle, even if his take on that crucial tete-a-tete was markedly different.
It was always going to be tough,” he said of his duties on Monaghan’s star man. “He’s a class act. He’s up there with the best forwards in Ireland. He’s smart. He bought a few frees, but I’d cover there with Collie [Cavanagh] coming back.
That reference to frees being ‘bought’, contained in the same sentence as Cavanagh, will raise a hollow laugh in Monaghan, given the free awarded to the Moy man, converted by Peter Harte in the 65th-minute, when he clearly barged into the defender.
A crucial moment in a one-point game.
Every forward in the country knows how to ‘buy’ a free, but few would go along with the assertion that McManus was more sinner than sinned against and Nolan’s approach to the attention lavished on him played a key part in Tyrone’s win.
Whether through fair means or foul, Tyrone’s ability to contain McManus was an undeniable success. The Clontibret man managed just one point from play, less than two minutes after the throw-in, and claimed just five frees beyond that.
It’s true that two of those emanated from fouls on him, but it made for a more than satisfactory return for Tyrone, who have now kept such a threat to just nine points from play in a dozen league and championship meetings.
The challenge ahead of Hampsey and his compatriots now is a very different one. Monaghan lacked alternatives when McManus was bottled up, especially in the second-half before Kieran Hughes came on and offered another outlet. Lock down one of Dublin’s forwards and another will pop up and inflict untold damage. It is football’s version of whack-a-mole and it just doesn’t seem to matter how many mallets the opposition bring to the fair.
Whatever assignments you are to do, you get the head down and do it,” said Hampsey. “You could be full-back one day and centre half-back or midfield. It’s doing a job for the team and that’s all that matters.
Hampsey made his name at full-back on the county’s All-Ireland-winning U21 side, he has featured at centre-back and at midfield and, as we saw at the weekend and in Ballybofey, where he tailed Michael Murphy, he can do a mean man-marking job, too.
He watched Tyrone’s last All-Ireland senior final, in 2008, from the Cusack Stand with his father and described the thought of featuring on the big day himself as surreal. With Dublin in opposition, it will be the ultimate test.
“Finals are there to be played for. There’s always pressure and it’s always going to be nerve-racking. I’m a nervous player as it is. There’s always going to be pressure there, but it’s one we will look forward to.”