DESSIE Ward says he’s playing inter-county football in the hope of winning the biggest prizes available to the Monaghan footballers – but knows every other top level team is on the same trail.
The versatile Ballybay man, who performed an excellent man-marking job on Caolan Mooney in the Farneymen’s Ulster Championship win over Down last weekend, knows the provincial road ahead is a minefield.
The gradient on that road too will be as steep as Clones hill when they take on giant-killers Derry in the Ulster semi-finals on Sunday May 15 at The Athletic Grounds.
Monaghan have reached only one final – in 2021 – since Ward hooked up with the seniors in 2016. Before that, they won two provincial crowns under Malachy O’Rourke in 2013 and 2015 and were a runner-up in between those victories.
“To answer your question I’m playing football to win an Ulster title and to win an All-Ireland title, eventually,” said Ward.
“But there’s no way you can look at that until you’re in that position. Even last year we played in an Ulster final (losing to Tyrone by a point) and I probably didn’t think about it properly until the final whistle went and we were on the wrong side of it.
“But that’s the ultimate goal. At the end of the day you’ve so many pillars to cross before you win an Ulster title and we’ve a lot of work to do. In two weeks’ time it’s going to be a massive test before we can even think about winning Ulster titles.”
Ward was a second-half substitute the last time Down beat Monaghan in the Ulster series – a memorable 2017 semi-final bout in The Athletic Grounds masterminded by the late Eamonn Burns.
But last weekend’s clash felt like a challenge game in comparison.
Down managed to hit a goal either side of half-time to keep the paltry 5,418 crowd interested for a period before the home side ran out 10-point winners.
“It definitely still felt like an Ulster Championship match to us,” Ward said. “We didn’t know what to fully expect from Down, but we prepared for it like any other Championship match but I can assure you, in the heat of it, it did feel like it because after 30 seconds of the second half they got another goal.”
On his cat-and-mouse duel with Mooney, Ward said: “It was a good battle. Caolan has plenty of pace and I was trying to curtail him as much as possible.
“The team defence covered my back too so we all dug in and we kept him relatively quiet. Now he got a goal alright but other than that we were happy enough.
“It was just that switch-off at the end of the first half. We definitely wouldn’t be happy with that, just a small lapse in concentration, so that’s down to us and up to us that it doesn’t happen further down the line.”
Ward has become one of the mainstays of the Monaghan team over the last few seasons and sang the praises of the next batch of young players coming through to the senior ranks, as well as name-checking some of the more seasoned members of the squad.
“There is a good blend of youth and experience. I thought Darren [Hughes] was unbelievable for us and then you’ve the likes of Sean Jones coming in, a young lad, Gary Mohan and Woodsy [Andrew Woods] are all playing serious football for us at the minute. You saw Drew [Wylie] and Karl O’Connell coming on too – every one of them is vital to this team. It’s just the blend of youth and experience is what I like most about the team.”
“There is serious competition in the squad. We had an in-house game last Saturday and there were boys putting up their hand. It’s exactly what we need going forward, we need a strong squad.”