GAA Football

Best of Enemies: Kevin Madden relives county and club battles through the years

In the latest of our ‘Best of Enemies' series reflecting on some of the GAA's red hot rivalries on the field, former Antrim and Portglenone forward Kevin Madden tells Neil Loughran about finding himself in one Derry defender's little black book, while reliving county and club battles through the years…

Derry's Sean Marty Lockhart is generally regarded as one of the top man-markers in recent decades. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Sean Marty Lockhart (Derry)

SEAN Marty was obsessed with you – that’s the best way to sum up his approach. His match wasn’t Derry and Antrim, it was you and him. Of course he wanted Derry to win, but that personal duel was what mattered.

His primary job was to stop me from getting the ball. If that meant sacrificing closing down another player or shutting off the centre to make sure he stayed with you, so that at the end the game you had done as little damage as possible, so be it.

Sean Marty was ultra aggressive; you never for a second forgot he was there. The ball would’ve been at the other end of the field and he’d have been touching you, not necessarily aggressively, but he’d have had his hands on you – ‘I’m here, don’t forget that’.

The times we came up against each other there would always have been words, but he certainly wasn’t a sledger. Actually, the quietness of the way he went about his work was probably as intimidating as anything he could or would have said.

I remember us playing Derry in a League game at Celtic Park in the Noughties - winter-time football, so I was never going to get the better of Sean Marty. We were having a good oul duel, even though it was one of those games Derry were always going to win by five or six points.

At one point we were wrestling off the ball and the referee showed us both yellow cards. About five minutes later Barry Gillis was kicking the ball out, Sean Marty made a run and I hadn’t tracked him. Gillis didn’t hit him, so Sean Marty ran back in my direction. I was running his direction, and I just saw the opportunity and thought ‘what have I got to lose here?’ I met him and hit him with the shoulder - I went down and the next thing the referee gave Sean Marty a second yellow.

Derry won the match, it was a second yellow so he wasn’t going to incur a suspension - you’d have thought it wasn’t that big a deal. But after the match he was straight over to me, fuming – ‘why the f**k did you do that? You set me up’.

It was only when I got involved with Derry as a coach years later that I really understood what made Sean Marty such an exceptional defender. He wasn’t the most naturally gifted footballer but he was the most meticulous trainer, and probably the most prepared footballer I ever encountered.

He studied his opponents in-depth prior to every single match – he watched videos before every game but there was also a black book that he kept down through the years which profiled every forward he came up against.

It included details about what foot they were going to kick with, what runs they made, what dummies they had in the locker, whether they turn on to their left or right when they receive the ball, their shooting range... it was as though he was preparing for an exam.

I realised then, having come up against him, if you were doing all the things you had done previously, he would always know your next move.

Cavan's Michael Hannon went toe-to-toe with Kevin Madden over two Ulster Championship games in 2005. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Michael Hannon (Cavan)

ANTRIM played Cavan in Ulster in 2005 at Breffni Park, then in the replay at Casement, and both days I found Hannon a very tricky opponent. I don’t know whether he had studied my game but he was very pacy and rangy. If you weren’t getting good ball, any 50-50 ball he had the pace on me.

At county level I was lucky enough to come up against the likes of Mike McCarthy of Kerry, Andy Mallon, Karl Lacey, Niall McCready, Barry McGowan of Donegal, Finbar Caulfield of Down, Kieran McKeever… there’s a bit of s story to McKeever actually.

In 2000 when Antrim played Derry in the Championship, on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the drawn game I got two letters in the post; one was signed by Kieran McKeever, basically threatening me, telling me what was going to happen in the replay. There were a few choice words used.

A couple of months later I found out Kieran and Henry Downey had both received abusive letters allegedly signed off by me. I’ve no idea who was behind it, and maybe if somebody reads this they’ll come forward. I would imagine it’s someone in the Portglenone/Greenlough/Bellaghy area, but it’s mad the lengths some people will go to.

A couple of others who come to mind are Cathal Daly, a bull of a corner-back with Offaly, and I had Brian Lacey on me both when he played for Kildare and then a couple of years later against Tipperary.

Then there was ‘Ricey’ [Ryan McMenamin] and Chris Lawn with Tyrone. In 2003 I had a good tussle with them both - two tougher boys you couldn’t meet, and they were instrumental in Tyrone winning the All-Ireland that year.

Both were fierce, no-nonsense competitors who were also brilliant on the ball. Winning your own ball and taking them on was one thing, but take your eye off them for a split second and they’d have destroyed you going the other way.

I had another experience with Chris Lawn and his brother Stephen, the forward, a few years before that. I’d been in Chicago playing for the Parnell’s in the summer of ’98 and the two Lawns (front and back) were playing for the Pearse’s.

I got roped into refereeing a game between them and the Wolfe Tone’s one day. In the States, it was anything goes, but instead of knowing what side my bread was buttered I was trying to be thorough in my application of the rules.

Chris Lawn was doing a bit of pulling off the ball and I gave a free in against him. Not best pleased, he says: “Madden, if you don’t put that whistle away I’ll see you after the match and I can assure you it’ll be the last game you ever referee.”

The $40 fee all of a sudden seemed worthless as I found out for the first time that back Lawn was not a man to be messed with. We met in the bar toilets of Gaelic park (by coincidence rather than design) after the match and, thankfully, had a good laugh about it.

Tyrone's Chris Lawn was a formidable opponent for anybody during the Nineties and Noughties. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Enda and Aidan McLernon (Creggan)

AT county level you’re maybe only playing against boys once a year where at club level you could have the same boy hanging out of you four or five times, so there were loads in Antrim I’d have done battle with regularly.

Among the ones who spring to mind are two brothers, Enda and Aidan McLernon. Right the way through underage Enda would always have marked me, and you got very little change out of him. He had a low centre of gravity, was very quick, a good tackler, very combative. Right up to senior level we had a lot of great duels.

Then his younger brother Aidan came along and when Creggan realised they needed Enda out the field, they put Aidan in. I remember one intermediate championship match in 2001, not long after I’d come back from the heart surgery, he gave me a tough time. He played on the edge and probably got away with a wee bit more than he should have.

Three or four weeks later we were going to play Creggan in a league game. We were pushing for promotion but I said to Ciaran Doherty, who was managing Portglenone at the time, “see if this off the ball stuff starts again today, I’m not going to be standing for it”. Ciaran understood.

With about 15 minutes to go Aidan was pulling at my jersey and I drew back and hit him in the stomach; nothing overly aggressive. He turned around and drew his boot off me, so I drew off him as hard as I could and left him in a pile.

The referee had brought his own umpires, and the umpire at the top end had seen it as clear as day. I thought that was it. The ref runs over to him, asks ‘what happened?’, then turns round and says ‘play on’ – I couldn’t believe I got away with that one.

It’s funny the respect that grows out of things like that because we played Creggan again in the return fixture two or three weeks later and there wasn’t a word between me and Aidan.

Laurence Higgins from St Paul’s and Damien Gault from St Enda’s were both very good defenders too, then there was Paddy Maguire from Davitt’s.

Paddy was a big six foot two Falls Road man, built like a brick shithouse, big pale face, showed absolutely no emotion, he just stared at you… he always reminded me of the Undertaker from WWE. We had some great duels and for a fella that never played county, he was a hell of a player.

 

Greggan Kickham's GFC: Aidan McLernon is wearing No 5 and Enda McLernon is No 6. Picture courtesy of John McIlwaine and Tony McCollum 

 

Kevin Madden's Portglenone club-mate Tony Convery was a hard man to get around in his pomp. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Tony Convery was a big quiet man I would’ve only played against at club training but he was a very good footballer - a bit different from the rest in that he wouldn’t have worried too much about you getting the ball out in front of him. You might have won nine or 10 balls but then only got past him once.

Tony was very intelligent, a good reader of the game and great at anticipating your next move. At county level he had great duels with the likes of Enda Muldoon and Ronan Clarke in games where he came off very well.

My brother-in-law Dermot McPeake captained Cargin to the 2000 county title, and in my early days I’d have played around left half-forward and he was right half-back. He would be very calculated and clever, and he knew the best way of marking me was to attack, attack, attack.

There was one game in particular where I scored six or seven points but he got four from play.

It wasn’t his man-marking you’d have struggled with, it was his intelligence and his energy going forward - though maybe it says more about my discomfort at spending too much time in my own half than anything else.

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