Passionate Niall Garland remains optimistic
By Cian O’Connell
Niall Garland has experienced the full range of sporting emotions hurling for Monaghan. The hope and belief that better days lie ahead; the crushing pain associated with painful defeats.
So Garland has perspective, an ability to deal with setbacks. An impressive start to the Allianz Hurling League Division 3A campaign brought plenty of positivity, but a heavy defeat against a revitalised Mayo was an undoubted setback at the weekend.
Garland came into the Monaghan set-up eight years ago. So his response when asked about how Monaghan hurling compares in 2023 is interesting and detailed.
“It started off brilliant, unbelievable,” Garland responds. “In my first two years at senior we got to Allianz League Finals in 3A. We were beaten unfortunately on both occasions - Tyrone was a very close game the first year. Roscommon, to be fair, were just far better than us on the day.
“That all started really positive. It was your aim every year to win 3A, not just to stay up. Then we were playing in Nickey Rackard semi-finals, things like that. We eventually lost out to the champions which you take.
“If you are going to get beat, make sure you get beaten by the best, that is the way I'd look at it. So it all started positive, but then we just went on a bit of a downward spiral.”
That was tough to take, but Garland learned valuable lessons. “It is not that there was a lack of talent or anything like that, I think probably in our case we probably got a small bit complacent at first maybe, thinking these big days were going to happen all of the time,” he adds.
“Realistically that is not the case. Nothing is handed to you at this level. You have to go out to earn it, whether you are used to getting there or not, you have to put in the work. We probably stagnated a little bit and maybe stayed at a certain level with a certain amount of training.
“Other counties were developing ahead of us, maybe getting in more strength and conditioning programmes, things like that. I remember we knocked Donegal out of the Nickey Rackard quarter-final one year, we bet them by eight or nine points in Inniskeen. For us that was massive.
“We went on to play Derry, who went on to win the championship at ease that year. Since that Donegal it was almost like a kick in the backside for Donegal that defeat.
“Since then Donegal have become absolute specimens in their team, they are real raw athletes. We played them a year or two afterwards in a semi-final, we were just chasing shadows to be honest with their physique and everything.
“It was the same team on paper realistically, they just developed massively with their training load, probably diet habits.”
Garland’s approach to hurling has altered. The requirement to embrace new challenges is critical. “We probably took things for granted, we thought if we work hard on the field that will do it, but realistically nowadays the field is probably your smallest bit of work,” Garland says.
“It is how you recover, how you sleep, the water inloads. I've a big bottle here beside me, full of electrolytes here to get myself right after Sunday. If you gave me that five years ago I would have laughed at you. Things like that make it a massively changed game.
“It has taken us realistically this last 18 months or two years to cop on, that we would fall behind. Thankfully we have always stayed up in 3A, but we slid down into the Lory Meagher.”
Generating that bit of momentum to enjoy a productive Championship campaign remains the objective for Garland.
“To be fair we were caught cold in our first year in it,” Garland states. “A lot of us maybe thought it was only going to be a matter of turning up, that you'd get a day out in Croke Park, but to be fair you get blown out of the water down there too.
"It took us them bad experiences to get our act together, to realise that this is nearly a professional job nowadays, no matter if you're from Monaghan or Kilkenny.
“It is the same workload that has to go in, I think it shows in championship, especially in this 3A campaign bar a couple of results at the weekend.
“There was a mad stat that so many games were a draw or either decided by a point. It shows how everyone doing that training load has really tightened the competition.”
Garland acknowledges how competitions such as the Celtic Challenge has helped to develop hurlers, affording emerging players opportunities.
For the long term development of the game, though, Garland accepts it is important to competing for silverware in both league and championship.
“It is great that every county has a realistic chance, that is what the GAA has provided to be fair,” Garland says about the current structures. “The Allianz League provides it the way it is broken up - there is a realistic chance to compete, to get your trophy, to get to whatever level it is, and to actually build, slowly, but surely. That is massive.
“Even bringing it down to the Lory Meagher - everyone in the Lory Meagher will fancy their chances of going all the way. It is that competitive. People look on paper, they get carried away saying Monaghan are 3A, they are top, and the rest are 3B.
“Realistically you see teams coming from 3B to 3A, they are fairly holding their own and doing very well. I don't see that big of a gap to be honest. Fair enough you could have somebody coming down from 2B - they are probably a bit ahead. In general 3A and 3B teams on any given day you can catch anyone out.
“There is always that incentive, especially a county like Monaghan, you only have five or six clubs, if even.”
Ultimately Garland remains optimistic and hurling for Monaghan at GAA headquarters is still the objective. “You need some incentive for young kids to come through, for them to want to play for Monaghan,” he adds. “Every child wants to play in Croke Park realistically, hurling needs to have that incentive - is there any possible chance of getting to Croke Park, via the hurling.
“There is realistically, I know we haven't got there yet, but the dream is there. It is very manageable, it takes a lot of work, and it will take a lot of work over the next couple of months, but Please God it all goes well.”