Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh tributes: ‘We did our best to honour him as a player and person in Monaghan’

On Saturday, the people of Monaghan will pour into Croke Park and have their chance to gather. Not in hundreds, but thousands. The Ulster final is the reason, but the memory of Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh will be the motivation
Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh tributes: ‘We did our best to honour him as a player and person in Monaghan’

Number six on the Monaghan teamsheet in the programme for last night’s Ulster U20 FC final against Down is left empty in honour of the late Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh, captain of the Monaghan U20 football team, who passed away tragically hours after the semi-final. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

On Saturday evening, they will have their chance.

The people of Monaghan will pour into Croke Park and have their chance to gather. Not in hundreds, but thousands. The Ulster final is the reason, but the memory of Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh will be the motivation.

The news breaking on the morning of a fortnight ago, was the moments the clocked stopped across the county. The captain of the Under-20 team, killed in a car accident just shortly after inspiring his teammates to an Ulster final.

Last night was the Ulster U20 final, where Down prevailed over Monaghan after extra-time in Armagh.

During the week, the Donegal U20 team presented a copy of their number 6 jersey to Monaghan County Board chairman Declan Flanagan to be passed onto the Ó Dufaigh family.

There were tributes at the Monaghan minor ladies game. All around various age grades and codes, there have been little gestures of solidarity. A knitting of a people together.

A Monaghan player wears a shirt in honour of the late Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh, captain of the Monaghan U20 football team, in the warm-up before the EirGrid Ulster GAA U20 Football Championship Final between Down and Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
A Monaghan player wears a shirt in honour of the late Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh, captain of the Monaghan U20 football team, in the warm-up before the EirGrid Ulster GAA U20 Football Championship Final between Down and Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Where it all has been found most keenly though, is in the short distance from his homeplace to grounds of Monaghan Harps along the Ulster Canal.

Few have seen scenes like it on the day of the funeral. The senior players of the club went up to the family home and walked behind the hearse all the way to St Macartan’s Cathedral.

Alongside them, the county senior players and the under-20 team. Every team in the Harps from U11 up, his work colleagues in Kingspan Century. Thousands and thousands.

At the gates of the club, wreathes, scarves, jerseys, flags all accumulated throughout the week. A book of condolences opened for two days and people travelled enormous distances to put their names and the names of their club in it.

The first steps to normality came the day after the funeral on the Wednesday. Perhaps appropriately, it was the juveniles that signalled a return to action on their pitches. The following night the seniors were down for a fixture but it was postponed for another few days instead.

Colm Shalvey is a GAA writer with the Northern Standard newspaper in the town and a Harps clubman. The day of the Monaghan-Armagh Ulster semi-final, he turned up in the press box in a Harps training top.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t talk to anyone.

He couldn’t talk to anyone.

By the following Sunday, he was playing in a reserve league semi-final against Ballybay, the first adult game back for the club.

“There was a minute’s silence and ourselves and Ballybay just put out the number 6 jerseys on the pitch before the game.

“Those jerseys were not worn during the game. They came over and left a wreath, spoke to us after the game.

“At that stage we wanted a game. We were looking forward to getting back into it.”

Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh. Picture: Ulster GAA/Twitter
Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh. Picture: Ulster GAA/Twitter

Even before Ó Dufaigh’s passing, Monaghan were experiencing another loss. The death of Carrickmacross man Philip Treanor was never going to have the same widespread impact as the death of a county underage captain, but the team sponsor of All Boro Floor Service was an immensely popular figure within the county and among the Monaghan team.

Treanor had made his fortune in flooring in New York. Some of the county board wished to travel out to his funeral but Covid restrictions prevented them.

Monaghan board chairman Flanagan recalls how the U20 semi-final win over Donegal lifted some of that grief. That evening they watched ‘Ogie’ winning “70-30 balls that he had no right to be going for on the night”.

And then.

“Two and a half hours later, that happened,” says Flanagan.

“It was tough because a lot of those younger lads played along with Ogie. They were on the side of the road with him when he actually died. They arrived on the scene.

“So it was traumatic, very traumatic for all those young people, everyone. He was known well and appreciated by everyone. “It is a very tough time for people in Monaghan and they are all supporting each other. The Monaghan Harps club are fantastic, they did a fantastic job.

“Everyone around the U20 team, they did what they thought was the right thing for the team and kept them talking, kept them going anyway.”

Mourners attend the funeral for Monaghan U20 star Brendan Og Duffy at St McCartan's Cathedral in Monaghan. 
Mourners attend the funeral for Monaghan U20 star Brendan Og Duffy at St McCartan's Cathedral in Monaghan. 

Unfortunately, young teams losing a player like this has happened before. When Tyrone minors lost Paul McGirr in 1997, they talked afterwards about not making it a ‘crusade’ to win for their friend.

Monaghan cannot do the same. Flanagan explains it.

“If you set it up that you are doing it for somebody, they are playing for their jersey and for the county. When the game is over, those lads will never forget the good times with Ogie.

“(Neither) The players, nor the supporters can make it an issue that, ‘we will win this for Ogie.’ If it went wrong and they didn’t win it, then they would feel they let Ogie down.

“Last week was all about protecting the family. We talked to them and made sure the privacy was very important, as far as we were concerned from a county board point of view. We kept our distance.”

Flanagan had a unique insight. ‘Ogie’s’ father Brendan, the principal at Coláiste Oiriall, was in the same class at St Macartan’s with him.

“All I can say for all the players, seniors, under-20s, minors, hurlers, ladies, all of the teams turned out to honour Ogie and they did it in a great way and we have no regrets. We did the best we could to honour him as a player and as a person in Monaghan.”

That was enhanced by the post-match media engagements of Seamus McEnaney after the Armagh game.

“I suppose Seamus is a stone-mad Monaghan man. He is a passionate, passionate Monaghan man. Gives it his all, leaves no stone unturned,” says Flanagan.

“He had a very good football relationship with Ogie coming up through the minors, he had Ogie as his captain in 2018. That came across in his interview. The two trusted each other and it hit Seamus very, very hard. He treated Ogie like he was one of his own family.”

And now the Monaghan family get a chance to bid farewell.

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