HE’S the Monaghan man who turned DCU into a Sigerson Cup stronghold, but this wasn’t merely good for Glasnevin … it was a catalyst in the creation of the Dublin football juggernaut.
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Niall Moyna was a fan as DCU collected their fifth Sigerson title last week; he was manager for the first four.
There is an irrefutable link between those higher education football triumphs – especially the first three in 2006, 2010 and 2012 – and the glory trail blazed by Dublin over the past decade.
“I’ve a photograph here in my office,” says Moyna, ahead of Saturday’s Allianz League clash of his adopted Dublin and native Monaghan in Croke Park.
“I shake my head when I see it! The 2010 team – I thought that was the weakest team we ever had that won it. And I see now, I think there’s nine All-Ireland medal winners on it!”
DCU overcame UCC that year to claim their second Sigerson crown. In the first 15 alone were Philly McMahon, Kevin Nolan, Jonny Cooper, Bryan Cullen, Paul Flynn and Paddy Andrews.
The following year, Cullen would skipper Dublin to end their 16-year Sam Maguire famine; Nolan was named Man of the Match after the final against Kerry. The other four would become All-Ireland winning mainstays during the ultimate ‘Decade of the Dubs’.
The DCU connection doesn’t start or end in 2010. For their maiden Sigerson success against Queens in 2006, team captain Cullen was joined by Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan in a team that included three other Dubs of inter-county renown, Paul Casey, Declan Lally and Ross McConnell.
The 2012 combination, which demolished Maynooth in the decider, was even more top-heavy with decorated Dubs: McMahon, Cooper and Flynn now joined in the starting 15 by James McCarthy, Dean Rock and Eoghan O’Gara.
Moyna has no doubt that exposure to elite third-level competition was “invaluable” for this Sky Blue generation.
“James McCarthy and Philly and these guys will tell you that the quality of football they played at that time … there were great teams around, and it was a great bedrock for them,” Moyna declares.
“There wasn’t that big of a step to go then into Division 1. And for them it’s been huge.”
Pat Gilroy’s decision to move Dublin’s training base to St Clare’s in DCU was another link that resonated beyond the merely geographical.
“I think Pat has said this on numerous occasions, that he wanted to bring the Dublin team around a winning culture – which was in DCU at the time,” Moyna explains.
“So obviously we played a role in that, and we have continued up to the present day being the training base for both the hurlers, women’s footballers and men’s footballers.”
What is perhaps less well known is the powerful GAA bond between DCU and Moyna’s home county.
Trawl through those Sigerson winning teams and you’ll spy plenty of Monaghan names: Owen Lennon and Shane Smyth started the 2006 final, Ciarán Hanratty came off the bench, while the team was coached by Clontibret’s Declan Brennan along with Mickey Whelan.
Darach Mooney was the only Monaghan starter in the 2010 decider but Moyna singles out his stellar contribution.
Meanwhile, on the 2015 team that squeezed past UCC, the centre of the DCU defence was manned by Monaghan duo Conor Boyle and Dessie Ward. Shane Carey – who scored one of Monaghan’s two goals in their Clones victory over Dublin last spring – was also involved in that campaign while Conor McHugh was the most high-profile Dub to feature.
The link has carried through to this year’s decider, on home turf eight days ago, as DCU overcame IT Carlow by double-scores thanks in large part to the contribution of Dubliner Evan Comerford and Monaghan’s David Garland.
Comerford – Dessie Farrell’s current go-to ‘keeper in the injury-enforced absence of Stephen Cluxton – revealed Cluxtonesque qualities of his own by converting three frees while Garland top-scored with 0-4.
Paddy Christie’s team included three other Dublin panellists – Seán Bugler, Shane Carthy and Paddy Small – plus another Farney man, Micheál Bannigan.
Bannigan has started Monaghan’s first two league games while – according to Moyna – Garland is definitely worth considering for a county recall.
“I think the issue was people thought he (Garland) was too small. But he’s been a breath of fresh air this year … he was exceptional, his movement was fantastic.
“And the same with Bannigan. Bannigan played for me three years ago, my last year, and you could see then he had the potential.”
Looking ahead to Croke Park this Saturday, Moyna declares: “For Monaghan it’s a huge game; for Dublin it’s just another game in another cycle.
“The problem with Monaghan is they have to work very, very, very hard for survival in Division 1 every year, whereas Dublin can just mosey through. And I think that comes back to haunt Monaghan later on in the year, because it’s very hard to sustain it.”
To keep Monaghan at the levels reached by Malachy O’Rourke will be “a challenge” for Séamus McEnaney in his second coming.
But Banty’s involvement with recent minor teams, he adds, is a big plus. “We didn’t win a minor title from 1945 … and now we’ve won three (2013, ’18 and ’19). That’s very unusual for Monaghan, and there’s a guy called Paul O’Connor (Monaghan’s games development manager) that I would credit most, obviously along with the managers, for what has happened over the last decade.”
Dublin, likewise, are also adjusting to life under a new manager. Moyna salutes Jim Gavin for a “phenomenal job” that won’t be repeated; but Farrell was the natural successor and will provide “a breath of fresh air … particularly for the lads who felt, probably in the last year or two, that Jim didn’t see a role for them. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them now.”