Gavin Doogan is fast becoming an endangered species in GAA county football
By Paul McConville
GAVIN Doogan is fast becoming an endangered species in county football. The 29-year-old building surveyor from Magheracloone has had to juggle work, training and playing with Monaghan with looking after his three children aged between five and eight.
At a time when many players call time on their county careers as they inch into their early 30s and settle down to start a brood, Doogan is enjoying something of a renaissance in his Farney career.
There aren't too many players squeezing training in between grabbing a bite of dinner and tucking the wee ones into bed. But he does admit that an understanding wife and the support network of a few kindred spirits in the Monaghan dads' club is a big help/
"You don't come across to many guys now [playing with young families]. The few chaps with Monaghan there, the likes of Vinny Corey, Stephen Gallogly and these guys that have families, you nearly get a good bond with them because they sort of know the same situation you're in, that you have to get away early to get back home to the family. If you're doing it and you can enjoy it, it's nice," said Doogan.
The hard-working half-forward has faced a number of challenges since he first came onto the Monaghan panel in 2009 under Seamus McEnaney.
'Banty' brought them to the brink of an Ulster breakthrough, but despite the undoubted talent in the panel, they couldn't quite get over the line, losing two finals in four years against Tyrone.
Monaghan's frustration was mirrored by Doogan's. Injury hampered his involvement and he decided to take time out in 2012 to go travelling to Australia but was coaxed by into the set-up the following year when Malachy O'Rourke took the reins.
Knowing the potential that was there, and hoping that his injury problems were behind him, Doogan didn't hesitate and his faith was rewarded when they beat Donegal in the final to land their first Ulster title in a quarter-of-a-century.
"When Malachy approached me and asked me would I want to get involved again, I definitely jumped at it. To tell you the truth, I really enjoyed it. So when you get a clean bill of health and you're injury free, there's nothing better that you want to do than play for your county," he said.
Doogan says he wasn't enticed by any masterplan that O'Rourke had laid out, but more his own awareness of the determination that existed in the panel.
"I don't think it was a plan as such. The whole group of players had an ambition to get over the line. You had guys there who were massive leaders the likes of Dick Clerkin, Owen Lennon, Thomas Freeman there in 2013 who all wanted an Ulster title and deserved it a wee bit more than anyone else. I think it was a wee bit of appetite and hunger. I think with that and Malachy's drive, got us over the line," he said.
But hopes of an extended run in the Farney team were again interrupted by injury and Doogan didn’t kick a ball in the 2016 Championship due to a troublesome hamstring. It proved a troublesome experience for his team-mates too as they followed two Titanic tussles with their modern-day nemisis Donegal with a shock defeat to Longford. Doogan admits it was disappointing, but that dwelling on it wasn't going to help either.
"I suppose after having two tough battles with Donegal in Breffni, the boys probably felt coming up against Longford, they would have got a result," he said.
"But, on the day, Longford were a better team and the guys didn't perform and they definitely were disappointed and it was a bit of an anti-climax. I suppose it had to be parked there and then and 2016 was forgotten about and try and move on in 2017."
A new year and fresh start were what was called for, both for personal and team point of view. Doogan has bought into that in a big way, being an ever-present in a League campaign which looked like landing the Farneymen a place in the final as they lead Dublin by six points with just over 20 minutes remaining. But a strong finish from the then unbeaten Dubs saw them take the spoils.
Still, the goal of maintaining their top flight status could be ticked off and Doogan can point to a few personal highlights, not least his goal against Kerry in Killarney which helped them come away with a valuable point.
"For myself, it was probably just about trying to get back into the team having not featured too much in the last two seasons, I just wanted to get back and I just wanted to offer something to the team and was grateful to get back and get your name on the teamsheet," said the Magheracloone man.
"From a team performance, we'd be reasonably happy with the League. We wanted obviously to stay in Division One football and compete against the top teams, and we put in some good performances on the road. I suppose Mayo and Kerry was the two big performances and against Dublin we just didn't get over the line in the last few minutes but we have some good positives to take from the League.
"It definitely was as close to Championship pace as you could get, Clones on a sunny day on a Sunday against Dublin. It was a great game, but in the end of it, we didn't get the result we wanted to get out it. It was somewhat of a performance there, but unfortunately we fell short and there's lots of things from that game and the League that we'd have to improve going forward in the Championship."
One area Monaghan have managed to already improve on in their League campaign is taking the sole scoring burden off Conor McManus. For many years the blueprint for stopping Monaghan was cutting off supply to McManus. But Currin star Jack McCarron, son of former Farney Allstar Ray, is finally being given the chance to deliver on the exciting potential he showed at underage level after his senior breakthrough was also hampered by injuries. Doogan is delighted that that McCarron is finally showing what he can do, which culminated in a sensational performance against Dublin in which he plundered 1-9 and ran the well-drilled Dubs defence ragged.
"Conor's a fantastic football and now we have Jack in the inside forward line. For a few years he's been troubled with injuries, but he's got a clean bill of health thank God and he's playing terrific football. It's a massive boost to us as a team," said Doogan.
"I'm personally delighted for him because I know, from an injury point of view, what he went through and how frustrating it is. You want to get the boots on, you want to get out and play and offer something to the team. To have him on the inside line with Conor, it's a massive asset to the team.
"When you're looking up and you have Conor and Jack on the inside line, and we've other guys there coming through from the U21s, the likes of Micheal Bannigan and Conor McCarthy, they're all massive assets and guys who can get scores on the day too. I'd say this year, going forward, we're in a good place scoring wise."
It may not exactly be child's play for Doogan and Monaghan, especially as they have to navigated a preliminary round tie against Fermanagh, but avoiding Tyrone and Donegal on their half of the draw gives them a great chance to reach another Ulster decider.
JACK McCarron's League form will have been a huge boost for Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke. The Currin ace hit 3-28 in Monaghan's Division One campaign, culminating in a scintilating 1-9 against Dublin. If the 24-year-old can stay injury free, he provides the Farneymen with a prolific alternative to the metronomic Conor McManus who has been the Ulster Championship's top scorer for the last three years but has frequently found himself double-marked as opponents seek to blunt Monaghan's perceived one-man attack.
Defences will have the added threat of McCarron to consider, as well as Scotstown sharpshooter Conor McCarthy who is another who can chip in with a few points. Suddenly the Monaghan attacking threat doesn’t look so concentrate. In fact, they had 15 different scorers on their seven League matches, and when you consider that goalkeeper Rory Beggan chipped in with a few points as well as defenders Fintan Kelly and Karl O'Connell, they have scores spread throughout their whole team.
The Farneymen also retain a sound defensive structure too. Only Dublin and Tyrone conceded fewer points in the top three divisions in the Allianz League than Malachy O'Rourke's men and they are also the only two teams to have defeated them in the spring.
ONE of the reason why Monaghan have proved hard to break down is Darren Hughes who, although frequently named at full-forward, drops back to add numbers to the midfield area. But the Scotstown man's knee injury, which he suffered during a club game against Clontibret in April, has ruled him out of action for three months. He will definitely miss the preliminary round clash with Fermanagh and potentially all of the Farneymen's Ulster campaign should they reach the final. In any case, his absence is a blow and, given the retirement of players likes Paul Finlay and Dick Clerkin, Hughes's experience is also a huge asset to the panel.
Despite reaching three consecutive Ulster finals and winning two, Monaghan have not been able to advance beyond the All-Ireland quarter-final in that time. Smashing that glass ceiling may require thinking outside the box occasionally. Their slavish devotion to an admittedly effective system can mean there isn't the opportunity to play off the cuff or take a chance in a close game, particularly in their two-game semi-final saga with Donegal in the last year's Ulster Championship.