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Finlay remembers the one that got way

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MON’ MAN: Paul Finlay. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

MON’ MAN: Paul Finlay. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

MON’ MAN: Paul Finlay. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

Paul Finlay can remember a time when Monaghan carried, at best, a puncher's chance.

His debut season in 2003 bore witness to that. Under Colm Coyle, they suckered the then All-Ireland champions Armagh in Clones. The following year they won two of seven games in division 2B before Coyle was replaced by Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney. At the time one ranking of the football counties had Monaghan in the bottom five.

"We were probably a few places above that but you couldn't argue with the ranking either because there was no consistency," Ballybay man Finlay remembers now.

Since then the transformation has been dramatic. They are regulars in the top flight, have won two Ulster titles and reached the last four of the championship in 2018. On Sunday Kerry travel to Monaghan and if the Farney County win, it'll be the fourth time in six seasons they'll have beaten the Kingdom in the Spring.

Still, despite seven attempts, Monaghan have never toppled Kerry in championship football. But for those of a certain a generation, the 2007 All-Ireland quarter final stands out.

"It certainly does feel like the one that you regret the most," Finlay sighs. "And that was the closest that team came to getting through the ceiling and into a semi-final."

After a good league campaign they reached the Ulster final and went down by two points to a Tyrone team who were a little over a year away from a third All-Ireland title. They then beat Donegal to secure a rare trip to HQ.

"A big thing back then was just getting to Croke Park and into the quarter-final," Finlay recalls. "Big days out in Croke Park were a huge motivation."

It was almost the perfect day. Monaghan were never headed until the last minute when Kerry were dragged over the line by the Ó Sé brothers, Marc produced a brilliant block before Tomas put them in front for the first time on 69 minutes. Banty would tell reporters after that he felt like he had had his "heart ripped out without surgery."

"Kerry went on to win the All-Ireland, it was a good Monaghan team, a very good Monaghan team," remembers Conor McManus.

Finlay is happily retired now. He stepped away as Monaghan's top scorer in history but has since been surpassed by McManus.