The invisible coach: Martin Corey driving from the shadows

"There’s an emotional impulsiveness hardwired into him. An intense, driven character, the players at his disposal learn quickly that what they will hear from him is the truth as he sees it. No bushes are beaten around..."

Monaghan coach Martin Corey. Picture: Sportsfile
Monaghan coach Martin Corey. Picture: Sportsfile Monaghan coach Martin Corey. Picture: Sportsfile

WITHIN coaching, the same sets of footprints walk in circles, turning the ground bare.

Coaching days here, podcasts there, the odd panel show, newspaper interviews.

Pick an inter-county coach, Google them or search YouTube. You’ll find most anybody in there somewhere.

Except Martin Corey.

There is one guarded podcast he took part in after leaving Cavan. A few short videos telling students what they’d get on his courses in the Ó Fiaich Institute in Dundalk. Otherwise, his lips have hardly pushed a word out in public.

Yet he’s done plenty to merit talking to.

Every step Castlerahan thought they were taking towards a first ever Cavan senior championship, the finish line seemed to move further away on them.

They lost three consecutive finals between 2015 and ’17. The first of them, a one-point defeat to Kingscourt, was the best chance, even though they’d taken Ramor United to a replay the second year.

Donal Keogan went searching for a coach and stumbled upon Corey. He felt instantly he'd hit on the perfect solution.

The early days didn’t go well though. Between county commitments and fellas rehabbing injuries, the resources he had on the training field were bare.

Corey, who won six Monaghan titles as a player with Clontibret, had very specific ideas he wanted to implement, particularly around their attacking play.

Without their full hand to work with, he was struggling to see how he could improve Castlerahan.

“So much so that he said to me at one stage ‘Ronan, I won’t last another session here,” recalls Ronan Flanagan.

“He hasn’t much hair but whatever hair he has, he was pulling it out. He couldn’t implement the gameplan he was trying to. I was saying to him that when we get all our lads back, we’ll be a lot better.”

By the end of the season, they were county champions for the first time ever. 

Rory Gallagher’s ploy of putting a string of men across the full-forward line feels like the tactical innovation everyone is standing back looking at as if it's drunk. Should we help it along or leave well alone?

Yet a few years ahead of Derry, that tactic was the entire thesis on which Castlerahan won their 2018 championship.

It required serious patience and discipline on the training field. It took some players longer to get it into their head than others.

For the inside forwards, it was a whole new way of playing. They had to stay close to goal and almost present as a decoy at times, just to keep defenders honest. But it was all designed around creating pockets of space for the runners from deep.

In one league game with Ballinagh, he told Flanagan he wasn't allowed to pass the ball, because he wanted to see if he could take men on and score when it was needed. It was adding layers every week.

Would Castlerahan have won it without him?

“No,” says Flanagan.

When Mickey Graham was dipping into the market for a coach to join his new Cavan backroom, a move for Corey – a former student at Cavan Institute – was inevitable.

Cavan had lost narrowly to Monaghan three times in five years. On the first two occasions, their neighbours had gone on to win Ulster.

The line was there in front of them, but they couldn’t get over it. Just like Castlerahan.

When the championship draw was made four months after they were appointed, Cavan drew Monaghan again.

Alongside Seamus McEneaney on the other line would be Vinny Corey. In the sibling way, Martin only calls him Vincent.

The two brothers would always have been tight. It wouldn’t have been easy for either of them that evening but this was the life they chose.

That same space that he’d wanted Castlerahan to attack was the space in which Cavan earned a first win over their rivals for 18 years.

They rotated relentlessly in the first half. Jason McLoughlin, Conor Moynagh, Killian Clarke, Niall Murray bombed relentlessly, each spending as much time at full-forward as in their own half. Their angles of running bamboozled Monaghan.

By half-time, Cavan were seven points in front.

They found the pace hard to sustain but held on for victory. They’d end up beaten in the Ulster final, but it was when they came back to the Covid final of 2020 against Donegal that a Breffni generation would get their reward in the shape of a first provincial title since 1997.

When they lost the Tailteann Cup final to Westmeath last year, Corey told the players in the changing room after the game that he was stepping down.

There’s an emotional impulsiveness hardwired into him. An intense, driven character, the players at his disposal learn quickly that what they will hear from him is the truth as he sees it. No bushes are beaten around.

What they’ll also learn is that he has an eye for the game and a desire to help.

“He’s a very honest man. If you played well, he’ll tell you played well. If you played poorly, he’d tell you you played poorly. I liked that about him. There’s no bullshit with him, you knew where you stood,” said one player that worked under him in Cavan.

“I always found he was a great person to lean in on and ask for advice, if he was struggling for form what I needed to do, purely because of his honesty.”

When he came to Cavan, players naturally drew comparisons to Peter Donnelly.

For most of a generation that worked with Donnelly either at U21 or senior level, his training was the first time they’d seen someone take the problems from a Sunday and directly work on fixing them on Tuesday night.

Martin Corey operated the same way. Everything on the training field had clarity and purpose, but it was built to educate the players.

“He was able to flip between letting things flow and if things are going wrong, let the players fix it, but if you have to coach it then coach it,” says Chris Conroy, a forward on the Cavan squad at the time.

“It wasn’t going from cone A to cone B. Say we’d done a shooting drill the night before, he’d have maybe set it up then without the cones so it was a bit more natural.

“They wanted us as players to take control of the session, that Corey wasn’t directing us to this cone and that cone, can we get operating it ourselves?”

Vinny had stepped down along with Seamus McEnaney last summer but while a joint Corey ticket always swirled through a seemingly never-ending conversation about who’d get the job.

In the end there was some sense of duty attached. It wasn’t Vinny Corey’s intention to be in this position but standing watching the candidates file past and fall off, he was never going to let the thing fall in around him.

“It’s not so much the family element, you’re looking for a quality coach,” he said of calling upon his brother after their league win over Roscommon.

“He’s been around a lot, he’s coached a lot of these boys at development squad level for the best part of ten years. He did a lot of coaching the whole way up in Monaghan from primary school, so he probably had a good read on the players before he came in.

“Obviously he has the experience of coaching senior club teams and Cavan then as well. It was the experience element you wanted.”

Micheal Bannigan, who had Corey all the way from U14 to U21, is feeling his benefit again at senior level. Is it any coincidence he's having his best season ever?

Speaking that same day in Clones, he said Marty was “top class” and that “personally, I love Marty, I find his coaching style excellent”.

Vinny Corey is the face of Monaghan football now.

Martin is only in the shadows because he chooses to be.