Where are they now? A walk down memory lane with former Monaghan wing-back Damien Freeman
Damien Freeman (Monaghan)
When did you play for Monaghan?
From 1997 until 2011.
What do you do nowadays?
I work in Swords for a facilities management company called Mitie, so I'm working up in Dublin the whole time around different buildings.
Are you still involved in Gaelic football?
I was a selector with Seamus McEnaney with the Monaghan minors this year. I jumped at the chance to get working with him again, and it was interesting to see the other side of it. Obviously I played under him but I really saw the work he puts into it, and the time that goes on in the background. No stone was left unturned, so it was a great experience.
We won an Ulster title and got to an All-Ireland semi-final, so it was a great journey. The character the team showed all year was something else, they were great to work with, a really good group.
What do you remember about your first game for Monaghan?
I got my first full start in 1997 at Croke Park against Down. It was a League quarter-final, and I was marking DJ Kane, and then Derry beat us in the semi-final at Croke Park again. I started on Henry Downey, then Fergal McCusker.
It was tough enough, but good learning. To get your first full start in Croke Park was nice too. When you're young, going into a League debut, you look forward to it because you're an unknown quantity. You can play with a bit of freedom.
What is the best memory from your playing days?
It's great to captain your county, and to captain Monaghan in Croke Park, but probably the whole experience rather than any one particular day.
Things changed when Seamus came in – no two ways about it. Monaghan football changed at that time in terms of commitment, the discipline needed to compete, and we never looked back. We got promoted from Division Four to Division One, two Ulster finals… it was great to be a part of that.
And the worst?
The one that stands out is the Kerry game in 2007. We were unlucky, caught with a sucker-punch goal… looking back on that game would be tough. The two teams that always seemed to be standing in our way were the two best teams around at the time, Tyrone and Kerry.
They were unbelievable, household names and match-winners all over the pitch. In that game against Kerry we fell short, just about. If we'd got past that, who knows because Kerry went on to hammer Dublin in the semi-final, and hammer Mayo in the final. They cake-walked it, so that's a tough one to get over.
Looking back at the 2010 Ulster final [against Tyrone], we probably went into it too easy. We played Armagh in Casement, wiped the floor with them, then it was the same against Fermanagh in Breffni. We went in as favourites to that final, and that wasn't a good thing.
Having it too easy then coming up against the likes of Tyrone, it's not good. You needed stern tests before you were ready to take on that Tyrone team because they were exceptional.
Another bad memory was '08 against Fermanagh in Brewster Park. That was terrible. Leading into that game every man was flying, we felt '08 was the year to win it after the experience of '07 but it just went totally wrong for us.
Who is the biggest character you have played with?
Rory Woods was a great character, great craic and a great footballer, absolutely fantastic. He'd lighten the mood up, and he was a leader. We'd so many leaders – John Paul Mone, Eoin Lennon, Vinny Corey. If you were looking for a man to go to war with you, Vinny Corey would be top of your list every day of the week.
Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?
It's a lot more tactical now. Sometimes you're sitting in the stand watching the ball going across the field, going back, you're waiting for an opening but there's a lot has to go into getting the end product.
Half-back is probably the best position now, but even when I was playing you could attack freely. Myself and Gary [McQuaid], if he went I'd hold back and vice versa, so it was an enjoyable station.
The finals we lost but other than that, no. Football was probably one of the only things I really took serious. Everything else was second, football always came first.
That's just the way I was. If I wasn't doing it 100 per cent I wouldn't enjoy it and I wouldn't have got the results. I enjoyed the training, the games, it was great. The only problem is when that part finishes, there's no going back.
I found it tough to go and watch the games after I left the panel because you still felt you wanted to be there, but I was delighted to see the lads get across the line in 2013. There was probably a part of you saying ‘I'd love to be part of it' but I knew how much those boys put into it and they deserved what they got out of it.
Interview by Neil Loughran