Monaghan veteran Vinny Corey ready for tough Armagh contest
THERE’S little worse than when your own turn against you, or turn their backs on you. Especially when those backs are covered in opposition colours.
Monaghan veteran Vinny Corey has won Ulster titles and come so close to an All-Ireland Final but he still remembers the dark days.
A stark memory sticks in his mind from his senior championship debut in 2003, an occasion that changed from despondency to delight, a bright spot if not quite a turning point for Farney footballing fortunes.
Armagh, who Monaghan host this Saturday evening in round two of the All-Ireland qualifiers, were the opponents then too, in an Ulster preliminary round tie. Also at Clones, the visitors were firm favourites, not only because they had won the Sam Maguire Cup the previous autumn, as Corey recalls:
“When I first started with Monaghan, ‘Coochie’ [Dermot] Duffy of ‘Blayney was the captain. We were playing Armagh in the first round of the Championship and you’d get to Clones early, sit in the stand and watch some of the minor game before going in to tog out.
“I remember ‘Coochie’ pointing to the family sitting in front of us, two parents and three children, I think, all kitted out in Armagh jerseys, and saying ‘They’re my neighbours’.
“That told you where we were at. We were a mid Division Four team and Monaghan people were wearing Armagh jerseys thinking ‘What’s the point of wearing Monaghan jerseys? We’re going to get hammered’.
“That same say we beat Armagh, they were All-Ireland Champions. There weren’t many Monaghan jerseys about – but now we have some of the best supporters in the country, young kids wearing Monaghan jerseys everywhere.
“The younger players on our panel wouldn’t remember those days, but when you look back it was completely different.”
Monaghan have been totally transformed since then, first by Seamus McEnaney, who took over in 2004, then more recently by current boss Malachy O’Rourke.
Even after Ulster titles in 2013 and 2015 last year was almost the best. Victory over Galway in Salthill in round three of the ‘Super Eights’ was a magical moment, ensuring a place in the All-Ireland last four for the first time in 30 years:
“You get certain matches where it all clicks and that was definitely one of those evenings, especially in the context of feeling we’d blown it in the Kerry game. We’d played really well in that game and still didn’t get over the line.
“In that context there was probably an overspill of emotion. Days like that make it worthwhile and put in the belief to push on; then there are other days where you go out, lose, and it all comes crashing down again.”
Now 36, Corey insists that success or failure on the pitch doesn’t determine his decision to keep going with his county:
“When you get on in age, if it’s not a good set-up you probably wouldn’t say ‘Sure I’m going to keep going’ – maybe some players would but… It’s not even about success and silverware, you’re never guaranteed those things, but it’s about going into a healthy set-up where everybody gets on well and everybody’s pulling in the same direction. Then you’re happy to be there for as long as you can be there.
“That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win trophies every single year but you’re more willing to commit your time to such a set-up.”
Even the devastating disappointment of losing that All-Ireland semi-final to Tyrone by a single point did not persuade the Clontibret clubman that his time was up.
There were tears, sure – but not from Vinny. His fourth child, a third daughter, was born last August, so there was no time to feel sorry for himself or Monaghan:
“For me, personally, the wee girl had been born a few days before that. [After the match] I got off the team bus in Drogheda and went up to the hospital to drive them home. It was back to reality.
“If you asked another player, they might have been wallowing and thinking all those thoughts, but for me, stuff had to be done. I couldn’t wallow for a few weeks, there was a new-born baby and, Bang!, stuff had to be done.
“There wasn’t a whole pile of time for thought. It’s natural in such circumstances to think, ‘Can we get back to here again?’ If we’d lost by 10 points, but one point, you always think about what could have been…”
Corey could have been forgiven for stepping away from county colours, but the backing of his wife sustains his playing career: “Sleep wouldn’t be high on the agenda, you just take it when you can get it.
“Listen, my wife [Joanne] is great, she has to take credit for most of it, first and foremost. It’s not easy unless you have that family support.
“It’s good for them, especially the older children, to see you playing. It’s no harm them seeing you go out to training, commit to something.
“But it’s not the case that as soon as you have children you have to sit in the house every evening. You still have to rear them; I try to be a good example and role model for them. My wife helps out, big time. I never saw it as a reason to stop [playing].”
Vinny has outlasted almost everyone from that day in 2003, apart from an Armagh minor, Charlie Vernon. Indeed he hasn’t even been demoted to the status of an ‘impact sub’, lining out in the recent round one victory over Fermanagh:
“Yeah, it’s great to be given a start – any player would tell you that, no matter what age you are. We’re at the level now, we’ve that much competition you’re never guaranteed to start a game, such is the quality of defenders we have.
“There’s no limitation or restriction that you’re only going to be coming in for the last 10 minutes. We have a lot of trust in the management that whatever decision they make will be for the best of the team.”
Team selection and performance will have to be very good this Saturday night against Armagh, Corey knows: “They have a lot of fires that need to be put out, a lot of boys on top of their game. Attacking-wise they seem to be a very potent threat.
“They didn’t seem to have any problem playing Fermanagh in the League: Fermanagh were going for promotion and Armagh beat them easily.
“Likewise, in the first round of the Championship Down were set up very defensively and they had no problem breaking them down. They are very attacking, but they have a bit more about them than just playing off-the-cuff.
“Worried would be the wrong word but there’s a sense that there has to be a bit of urgency. There’s a good chance, in a lot of people’s eyes, that we could be going out of the Championship on Saturday night because Armagh’s coming in with a bit of form. Many people would feel they’re playing the better quality football and we haven’t reached those levels yet.
“It’s definitely not a draw to be complacent about, you can’t just ride your luck, we’re going to have to up the performance levels”.