Best of Enemies - Mickey Linden: 'No matter where you went he was right up your backside'
In the latest of our ‘Best of Enemies' series reflecting on some of the GAA's red hot rivalries on the field, former Down star Mickey Linden tells Neil Loughran about the Derry corner-back who didn't give an inch, a Royal handful and the 'leech' who made life tough at club level...
Kieran McKeever (Derry)
KIERAN was somebody I would’ve had difficulty with at different times. He was a really tenacious, tight marker, quick too, and he was smart – Kieran knew when to give you a wee tug or hold you at the right moment when you were going for the ball and it would make you look bad, even though he’d fouled you. The referees or the umpires would never see it. His timing was very good that way, he had that bit of cuteness in knowing how to get away with things.
I would’ve come up against him mostly during the 1990s in the National League, and then in the Championship in 1994 he was put on me in the second half. Gary Coleman was on me in the first half [Linden scored four from play in that time], but I thought Gary was more of a half-back – it probably wasn’t ideal for him to be stuck in the corner. They were probably looking at his athletic ability and thinking he’d be able to cope with my runs.
Kieran stuck a lot tighter when he went on me; I still scored a point and set up the goal in the second half so I did okay, but you earned every yard you got off him. That’s the job of a corner-back – that’s why I can never understand why anybody would want to play there.
You’re sent out to try and stop a man playing football; it doesn’t matter if you kick the ball, as long as you stop him kicking the ball. They obviously get a real kick out of that but I could never understand that mentality. That’s their job and Kieran was very good at it.
Usually I preferred marking the bigger fellas. The smaller guys tended to stick a lot tighter to you where the bigger guys would’ve been a bit slower on the turn so maybe stood off a bit. They could outfield you maybe but normally you’d be thinking ‘right, I’m going to move this boy plenty, he’ll have a bit of trouble with me’.
Any time I did play full-forward, mostly through the ’80s with Down, I’d have marked the likes of Mick Lyons, Tony Scullion, bigger fellas playing at full-back but I always found them handier to play against because they maybe didn’t have the mobility of those really tight corner-backs.
In county training it was usually either Brendan McKernan or Paul Higgins, but sure I’d no bother with those boys! Higgins, he is quick, but he’s not that quick.
Robbie O’Malley (Meath)
ROBBIE marked me a few times in the League, but he was injured for the 1991 All-Ireland final, that’s why Terry Ferguson went on me.
Robbie was a different type of player to Kieran McKeever - very smart too, about the same height as me, but rather than being touch tight like McKeever, he would’ve marked two or three yards in front of you. It was risky from his point of view, but it meant you had to cover a lot of ground to get around him.
When we had a free-kick around the middle of the field, he would’ve turned round and faced me. He wouldn’t have been looking at where the ball was going, so if you were making a dummy run, he’d be there with you, maybe getting a fist in and that was good enough.
Robbie was really good at reading the game and covering your runs to stop you ever getting in front of him, so you always had to be thinking when you came up against him.
Jim McCartan (John Martin's, Glenn)
DURING my early years of club football with Mayobridge. John McCartan and his brother Jim both played county football as well, and Jim was an absolute leech. No matter where you went he was right up your backside, it was unreal.
He wouldn’t give you a kick of the ball and if you did get it you were tortured – he’d a great ability to rob the ball off you without you even realising it was gone.
Jim was a very versatile player too, courageous and supremely fit as well so he had the legs to stay with you. In terms of club level, he really stands out.
The game changed so much even through the time I was playing. Like, earlier in my career with Down I’d have played half-forward where you’d have been coming up against the likes of Donal Reid of Donegal, Fay Devlin…
There was none of the sledging or mouthing off you might hear about nowadays. I never really had that hassle at any stage, I don’t know if it was because I never stood beside them long enough, but I never really had any sledging or mouthing. I think that’s more something that came in during the Noughties.
In my day, you’d have got a belt quicker than a mouthful. I always remember marking Fergus Caulfield of Monaghan in those early years with Down, and that was an eye-opener – or maybe I should say eye-closer.
You learn very quick though - ‘right, I’ll not stand beside him for too long’.