Killian Clarke of Cavan before the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between Cavan and Armagh at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Clarke: ‘It always comes down to a point or two either way’

A truism across the land of Gaelic games: The ‘derby factor’ is intensified based on what part of a county a player or supporter comes from.

For Killian Clarke, raised hard on the Monaghan border, the battles with the Farney are the big ones.

“Yeah, definitely so,” the Shercock clubman agreed.

“If you ask a couple of different boys around the county, you’d probably get different derbies. I went to school in Carrickmacross myself, there would be a lot of Monaghan boys frequenting Shercock from Latton and Corduff and Magheracloone and different bits and pieces, it’s definitely my local derby anyway, yeah.”

Off the field, he sometimes bumps into Monaghan players here and there and while the rivalry is fierce when they lock horns, there is a mutual respect there, he feels.

“Out and about, different nights out or when I used to do a wee bit of work in Monaghan, you’d meet the boys and there is a bit of respect there and we’ve had a good few tussles over the last few years to really drive that competition between the two teams.

“It always comes down to a point or two either way. In the early years with Cavan, we probably were on the receiving end of a couple of close defeats from Monaghan after playing great football for 50 or 60 minutes or whatever it would have been. As of late, we might have had the slight upper hand on them but that’s nothing got to do with next weekend anyway.”

The cliché tells us that form is irrelevant when local bragging rights are at stake and the history of this fixture tends to concur. For what it’s worth, both sides had up and down National League campaigns anyway – Cavan finished third in Division 2 but rounded off the campaign with a couple of disappointing performances while Monaghan were relegated from Division 1 but seemed to up it in the final rounds.

“It's an interesting one, our last couple of games against Fermanagh and Armagh, we were probably a wee bit lacklustre, in the first half of a couple of earlier games in the league we were definitely very lacklustre and when it was put to us we kind of stepped up. That wasn’t the case maybe against Armagh, for 70 minutes when we pushed up on their kick-out, we saw a bit of a reaction from the lads and then similarly enough against Fermanagh last week.

“The first half was very poor by our standards and then for 20 or 25 minutes of the second half, we pushed up and got a wee bit more aggressive and it bore a bit of fruit for us then in the back-end of the match.”

Clarke feels that while there isn’t a huge difference between Divisions 1 and 2 per se, overall, the leading sides in the top flight are ahead.

“I’d say there is definitely a gap, the top three or four in Division 2 could probably mix it in the bottom half of Division 1 easily enough, the two teams that are going up, Armagh and Donegal, I don’t think they’ll fear too many teams next year.

“It’s just probably the rub of the green if they stay up or not but that would definitely be the case.

Like Cavan, Monaghan’s home record has not been good this year. Is it a case that Kingspan Breffni and St Tiernach’s Park are too welcoming for away sides?

“I’m not sure, it’s a funny one to work out. I remember my first couple of days in Clones, I was doing steward with Paddy ‘Chicken’, he was over the stewarding down in Clones at that stage…

“Going back to the atmosphere, everybody always wants to play Ulster Championship football, Jody always quotes the ‘white heat’ of Clones.

“That’s probably not going to be the case next week which is disappointing, hopefully the field will hold up as well, I think everyone is suffering at the minute from a pitch point of view.

“Hopefully we don’t get to the point where we’re having a conversation, does it need to be moved or something along those lines.

“It’s a funny one to work out, a lot of people think playing at home is an advantage and we’re probably an exception to that rule with some of the away performances that we had and then the ones at home.

“You’d probably have to look at the calibre of teams Monaghan were playing at home in comparison to ourselves. Probably different levels to that too. It’s a hard one to call all the same.”

While it’s a hectic time of the season at the moment, Killian is a fan of the split season.

“I actually prefer it, I think a lot of these things drag on. In my earlier years, you were waiting maybe three, four weeks between games. It adds a bit of competition, it adds a bit of value to depth within the squad too. It’ll keep more lads interested because the opportunities will be arising quicker and faster for them.

“If you pull up maybe on a Saturday and there’s a game the following week, there’s a tight turnaround window to play that next game. I think it’s a good structure, even from the point of view of maybe getting away for a holiday with the girlfriend or getting away with the family for a couple of days away, it’s kind of set in stone these days, you have a very good idea of where you’re going to be at and what you can book so you’re not booking it a week out and getting rinsed by Ryanair or Aer Lingus or whoever it might be.

“You don’t have a major window and the way football is going as well, less is more sometimes and from a recovery point of view, the sports scientists who are involved these days have a good grasp of what’s required to get you to the point of performing at your peak.

“I’d definitely be in favour of it anyway, yeah.”

Both Cavan and Monaghan are in similar positions in that they have had flux in personnel.

“The two teams probably had a good bit of turnover in the last year. Both teams are missing their keeper from last year, our keeper is on the sideline all the same and their keeper is in the States so it’s a wee bit different.

“The likes of Kieran Hughes, Gearoid and Marty, Fintan Kelly from an experience point of view, different lads like that, they’re probably like for like in ways.

“It’ll be a tough ask for ourselves after the two defeats that we’ve had, Monaghan seem to be a team who, if they can get goals early on, will really put pressure on you and we saw against Dublin the first day, they got three goals in that game and they do have a couple of lads with a lot of raw pace that will take a good bit of minding.

“Clones, first round of the championship against Monaghan, these are the games that you train for so I’m expecting a fiery affair and hopefully we can come out on the right side of it.”

Monaghan conceded more than any other side in the country in the league. Can Cavan get at them?

“It’s funny because when teams are set up defensively, I think there’s not a whole pile of goals scored. It’s probably down to a defender carrying the ball out and getting turned over and it’s two-on-one or three-on-one running in on the keeper.

“With the new keeper that they have going short, you have a couple of young lads coming in for Monaghan as well, primarily in the forward line, new faces that mightn’t just be used to the pressure that’s applied at those levels.

“It’s definitely something we’ll be looking at, we’ll see what way that works out for us.”

Any chance he’ll sneak in for a green flag himself?

“I think I scored a goal against Derry in probably 2015 in a McKenna Cup game, I got a goal or two in a challenge match the odd day now but I think I’m due one at this stage, we’ll see how we get on!”