Hurling and camogie

From Qatar to Croker: One Monaghan hurler's long road to Headquarters and a shot at All-Ireland glory

Jack Madden

In February 2019, the Qatari people geared up for that year’s Athletics World Championships in Doha, with more than a stray gaze towards the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Events such as this are all too rare. Often you only get one shot.

In February 2019, the Castleblayney people geared up for a mass exodus for that year’s Junior Club Championship hurling final in Croke Park, with more than a stray gaze towards glory, towards the Hogan Stand. Events such as this are all too rare. You know the rest.

Niall Garland did too, as he sat in a world where a Lamborghini is like a Toyota Yaris. A world where there are more camels than sliotars. Although in County Monaghan, that particular duel is a little closer than the hurling population would like it, a population as minute as it is mad.

There aren’t too many county championship medals of the hurling variety knocking around the Middle East, and in recent years, there’d be next to none outside of ‘Blayney. As a proud Donaghmoyne man, you can tell that townie tag sits a little uneasily on the Monaghan joint-captain’s shoulders, but in a county of seven clubs, you're left with little room for choice. Here, a fussy child would go hungry.

Garland did win an Ulster Junior Club title in 2014, but by 2018, with his foot in a cast and ‘Blayney on course for yet another county championship, you could hardly blame his mind for wandering. A few months later, the TG4 stream must have felt like a fever dream, as he watched his friends, his comrades, and a team from County Monaghan waltz into Croke Park wielding hurls. 

So, any regrets?

“I was working as a teacher over there, tied up, and obviously that was very hard to take. I was delighted for the boys, and I knew how much they deserved it having played with them so long. It’s what the club was working for, and it was huge for not just the town, but the county in general. 

"Obviously I was also half sick I wasn’t there, but I don’t regret leaving home at that stage. I’m stubborn enough, and when I say I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna go on and do it.”

Four years on and that is the reference point as Monaghan prepare for a Lory Meagher Cup final at Headquarters on Saturday against Lancashire. Castleblayney actually knocked out a team from Birmingham in that year’s All-Ireland series, with some of that squad making their own landmark journey to Croke Park representing Lancashire on Saturday. 



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The old clichés slowly trickle out, but perhaps they only live on because they work. Previous experience is invaluable to those who lost out to Kilkenny’s Dunnamaggin four short years ago. Play the game, not the occasion.

“Yeah we’re training away, but a lot of it is just trying to get ready for Saturday. Warm up routine, game plan, which to be fair we’ve known since the start of the year. It’s just been about keeping fresh, and getting focussed.

“There’s been a lot of wise words about using the pitch, but also treating it like any other game. Don’t be getting trigger happy and trying to make a name for yourself, just because you’re playing in Croke Park.

“That’s been the motto of the week. It’s a game of hurling. It’s fifteen on fifteen, 70 minutes. Within the camp, we’re very honest with each other. We’re not afraid to have discussions all with the aim of making ourselves better.”

Video analysis is a key component of any intercounty training, but stats aren’t the be all and end all for this outfit. In fact, they don’t even use GPSes. Mistakes are a means of improvement, rather than castigation. 

“We don’t get bogged down on stats, how many puckouts we won and lost, we’d more so be focussed on positives and negatives. What kind of puckouts worked, what ones didn’t?”.

The honesty in the group has been key, from the highs of the league victory over Armagh, to the “mid-season slump”. Garland and his co-captain Kevin Crawley of Inniskeen would have played no small role in turning the ship back around, with a final now on the horizon.

Garland was keen to stress the firepower of the weekend’s opponents, with the English outfit having finished as top scorers in the Lory Meagher group stages, despite finishing behind the Farney County. 

Having travelled to Pairc na hÉireann in Birmingham, Arthur Hughes’ charges are well aware of the task that lies ahead of them. A bright start saw Monaghan pull well clear at one stage, but two late goals saw the host salvage some pride in a 3-18 to 5-19 defeat only a matter of weeks ago.

Lancashire’s power and physicality is something Garland is keen to stress, but he also mentions the tight confines of Pairc na hÉireann. Surely then pace and movement will be key to any Monaghan success at HQ?

“They’re big strong men, well fit for the physical exchanges. They also have a good eye for goal, as they’ve shown with firepower up front. Their strong men aren’t just for size, they can move.

We feel we have pace right throughout the team, and that’s a testament to Deaglan Crowe and his strength and conditioning, but that’s no addition without possession. We have to want the ball.”

Only days before the self-proclaimed biggest day of his career, Garland sits with an overwhelming air of content, totally relaxed. He made no qualms about the fact he has already dreamt of victory. It’s a pretty picture, climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand, side-by-side with Crawley, and holding a cup of shimmering silver aloft, the word “Muineachán” freshly engraved.

There is a belief here. Belief in choosing hurling. Belief in the system, in the management, in his teammates, in the game plan. 

But there is also another contributing factor to the steely determination. This is Croke Park, this is do-or-die. For Niall Garland, this Saturday may be his one shot, and this time, there can be no regrets.


Hurling and camogie