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Monaghan's warrior spirit epitomised by the ageless Vinny Corey

Vinny Corey of Monaghan grabs the all-important goal against Tyrone last weekend Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

IT seems a life-time ago Colm Coyle took refuge against the cool, concrete wall of the corridors beneath the Gerry Arthurs Stand in Clones.

His Monaghan team had just beaten All-Ireland champions Armagh in a pulsating Ulster Championship preliminary round game.

It was the day Paul Finlay announced his arrival on the big stage, the U21 star keeping his cool to convert eight frees.

Just outside the Monaghan changing room, Coyle lit up a cigarette and pulled hard on it.

The Meath man was asked about the mountain Monaghan had just climbed.

Coyle replied with a mile: “I like mountains.”

It was May 11 2003.

This was before Seamus McEnaney’s time in charge. In many ways, Banty epitomised Monaghan’s fight for respect among the country’s elite.

Wrists curled, Banty would stand on the sidelines in a permanent state of war - and the Monaghan players were a reflection of their manager.

Monaghan were defiance personified.

They produced a conveyor belt of tough men. One of the toughest made their debut against Armagh all those years ago – Vinny Corey.

While all his team-mates of that era have walked off into the sunset, 35-year-old Vinny Corey is still going strong in 2018.

Given the increased demands on an inter-county footballer’s time, it’s a remarkable achievement the Clontibret man is still playing at elite level.

Towards the end of the first half of last weekend’s brilliant Championship clash between Tyrone and Monaghan, Mattie Donnelly stood Corey up before slipping past him to hit a point.

For those few seconds, you thought Vinny looked his years.

Within 60 seconds, Corey made a fantastic run to get on the end of Darren Hughes’s pass to score a game-changing goal for Monaghan.

Those 60 seconds summed up Corey’s warrior spirit.

In Eamon Dunphy’s absorbing memoir ‘Only a Game?’, first published in 1976, the former Millwall player turned scribe celebrated what he called the “good pro”.

“The good pro,” writes Dunphy, “will make the run, get that vital touch in the box, go for the return pass instead of holding back… There are so many ways to cheat, to walk away from your responsibility to the team. The good pro never does. He is sometimes knackered, often in despair, but never out of the ball game, never on the missing list. He is the man. He is the footballer’s footballer...”

As soon as Corey got the goal on Sunday before racing back to mark Mattie Donnelly, I immediately thought of Dunphy’s lofty depiction of the “good pro”.

Corey, a schoolteacher, has always been cut from a different cloth. He is the ultimate competitor and an utterly selfless team-mate.

“He takes personal pride in his discipline,” says former Monaghan team-mate Dick Clerkin.

“He would take as much satisfaction of going the full 70 minutes on Michael Murphy or Mattie Donnelly and them not touching the ball, even he doesn’t.

“He’s not one of these players that has to be in the game, that he has to be on the ball 30 times. He wouldn’t prioritise his own involvement at the expense of his primary role.”

To be a permanent fixture in Monaghan teams for 15 years must be some kind of record.

“One day you could have him marking Paddy Bradley and the next day you could play him full-forward,” says former Farney boss Seamus McEnaney.

“Whenever you needed a job done, you turned to Vinny to do it. If you needed somebody talked to in your own camp, he was the man.”

One of the toughest jobs in the modern game is trying to man-mark a player in the middle eight.

Arguably Corey’s finest hour was the man-marking job he did on Donegal’s Michael Murphy in the 2013 Ulster final in Clones when Monaghan emerged victorious.

He scored nine-out-of-10 in The Irish News ratings the following day.

His rating read: ‘When the experienced Clontibret man saddled up to Michael Murphy in the opening seconds, he stayed there for the entire game and was absolutely immense. Few, if any men, did what Corey accomplished yesterday. He demoralised Murphy and forced him to the fringes of this Ulster final.”

When you consider Corey’s overall contribution last Sunday you could easily have made a case for him to be man-of-the-match.

While the 15,000 supporters in Healy Park were enthralled by Rory Beggan’s flawless kicking and Conor McManus’s stupendous final 10 minutes, the foundations for Monaghan’s victory were selflessly dug by people like Vinny Corey.

“Vinny is just very straight, focused, there’s no messing and very clear in his convictions,” says Clerkin. “He wouldn’t train for the sake of training or be there for the sake of being there. He wants to be there because he knows he can deliver and he knows he’s still good enough.

“He’s not the type to hang around a county panel just to get a county jersey. He’s a very passionate clubman probably as much if not more so than Monaghan.”

“He’s the most driven man and footballer in Co Monaghan,” said Banty.

You can find many of Corey’s former team-mates in press boxes and commentary boxes around the country these days, studying and dissecting the games.

But the Clontibret man continues to rage against the dying light. He is a manager’s dream and the perfect team-mate

When the history is written of Monaghan’s golden generation, everyone will remember the warrior from Clontibret, especially his managers and team-mates.

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