Mark Counihan's the voice of experience for Monaghan
THOSE glorious minor days in the sun, moments that will never be forgotten. As a mouthwatering Electric Ireland All-Ireland quarter final awaits Monaghan this week we caught up with manager Mark Counihan who knows exactly how his players are feeling right now.
The Farney boys are enjoying a summer to remember. An Ulster title arrived earlier this month after victory over Tyrone and the journey continues this Sunday when they travel to Tullamore to face Munster runners-up Cork in the Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football quarter-final.
Counihan can remember his own days lining out for his county in the Minor Championship, and he’s just glad that the current crop is getting an even greater taste of success.
“I played minor football in ’99 and 2000, back a while now,” said Counihan.
“In my last year of minor in 2000 we had a really good close bond and that really helped us.
“It was a lean period but we managed to beat Fermanagh in the preliminary round and then Donegal in the quarter-final and it was the first time Monaghan had won back-to-back Minor Championship games for a long time.
“There was a great buzz around that team and I really look back so fondly on my time involved with those boys. It was probably one of the reasons why I took on this job.”
That experience has given Counihan and his management team the knowhow to do what is best for the squad so that football doesn’t become a chore that impacts on players’ education or social lives.
“We took a less is more approach,” said the Truagh Gaels’ clubman.
“We did that at the start of the year in particular when school and schools’ football was still going on.
“We tried to manage the players, tried to look after them the day before and the day after the games and just give them as much help as they needed.
“I think we’re seeing the fruits of that now at this time of the year and they really are a great group. They’re good and fresh and they’re still up for the challenge.
“The environment is good and when the environment is good you’ll get the buy in that you need.
“The boys have grown, they’ve taken on leadership and they have really blossomed.
“That’s the beauty of the journey, the longer it goes on the more chance you get to know them. That bond is always growing stronger.
“They were a quiet group at the start but as it has progressed they have grown and flourished in their roles and that’s always one of the great things about minor football.”
All of Monaghan will be hoping that the Major journey extends past this weekend as they get ready to face the Rebels at O’Connor Park.
While the counties have never met in Championship football at this level, Counihan is well aware of the dangers of a side that lost narrowly to Kerry in the Munster decider.
“It’s a fantastic challenge for us because we actually played them in our last challenge game before we started our league campaign,” he said.
“They beat us by double scores, 2-10 to 1-5, and we were hugely impressed by Cork that day.
“That proved to be a bar that we aimed to reach from there and it will be a fantastic opportunity to see if we have managed to do that. We’ll see how far we have come.
“Cork is a traditional big GAA county and this is a traditional Cork team. They’re big, physical, pacey, powerful.
“They have a great spread of forwards, in particular (Connor) Corbett and (Ryan) O’Donovan.
“It’s a brilliant challenge for us and one we’re really relishing. Hopefully that journey can continue.”
Nineteen years ago Des Patton tried to mould the futures of the likes of Counihan, Paul Finlay, Gary McBride and David McCague. Counihan is hoping to follow his lead.
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