GAA Football

Where are they now? Former Monaghan midfielder Hugo Clerkin takes a trip down memory lane

The Monaghan team that won the National League and the Ulster title in 1985. Hugh Clerkin is pictured on the far right of the back row
Neil Loughran

Age: 63

Club: Currin

Position: Midfield

When did you play for Monaghan? 1973-1988

What do you do nowadays?

I’m a retired teacher. I taught at Beech Hill College, I was there for 40 years before retiring two years ago. I missed it at the start but I find it okay now.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

Yes, I would be on the committee of the club. I’ve been on the committee all my life, once upon a time I was chairman, secretary and team manager not once but twice.

What do you remember about your first game for Monaghan?

Oh jeepers. I remember it was a challenge match against Westmeath and I was making a very good player called Willie Lowry but my first Championship match for Monaghan was in 1974 against Derry in Ballinascreen on the same day Mickey Moran made his debut. I would’ve got to know Mickey from then.

It was very fiery affair and I happened to be marking Gerry O’Loughlin so it was a bit of a baptism of fire on a personal level.

What’s the best memory from your playing days?

Monaghan winning the Ulster Championship in ’79 was a huge breakthrough, then winning the National League and Ulster Championship in ’85, that’s a big memory as well. That was a special year, I was getting a bit long in the tooth at that stage so to win then was great.

The people of Monaghan would’ve grown up looking at Cavan and Down, like everybody else in Ulster was, and you would have felt maybe like the poor relations. So when you made a bit of a breakthrough it was good.

Sean McCague had just taken over as manager and that was a huge change. I’m sure like everybody else who has been involved in the game, there were huge friendships came out of all of that, the likes of Gerry McCarville, Gene Sherry and people like that.

And the worst?

Ah, there isn't really one. I was sent off in the All-Ireland semi-final in ’85 so I suppose that still rankles with me a bit…

What for?

Ah it wasn’t my fault, I did nothing! No it was a push or a late tackle, whatever you want to call it. It was innocuous enough, there was nobody hurt.

Injuries were frustrating too. You know, in early ’88 I played in the National League and got an Achilles tendon injury in a challenge match against Tyrone and that was me out and I never played any more. Monaghan won Ulster that year and I missed out on it, so that was hard to take.

That injury eventually ended me playing football altogether.

Who is the biggest character you played with?

Fergus Caulfield was just brilliant to play with, a good character, a good man to have in the dressing room. He was a completely and totally underrated footballer. Tough, but a very good footballer. He was a wee bit like Francie Bellew, he’d be the first name on your team-sheet but never really got the credit he deserved.

Hugo Clerkin (left) pictured with former Tyrone manager Art McRory and ex-Armagh star Jimmy Smyth at an Ulster Vocational Schools awards event

Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

Like all sports, Gaelic football has evolved. Nothing stands still, and for that reason I don’t think it’s possible to compare. It was a totally different game. In the same way I’d have thought our game was totally different from watching ‘Red’ Collier from Meath running up the field, it all changed…

It was what it was and that’s it. I think the game today is great, there are some marvellous games. You’d like to think if you were playing you’d have been able to adapt and change.

Any regrets?

No. I don’t think we were good enough to win an All-Ireland, we were just always that wee bit short of an odd player or so. I certainly have no regrets about the commitment or what I gave to it.

You played for the right reasons and I really enjoyed all my time involved with it. Even the injuries are all part and parcel of it and you just have to take them and get on with it.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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