It’s definitely time to start thinking seriously about our first opponents in this year’s National Football League Division One campaign. It’s Monaghan we’re up against first and we play them at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on Sunday where throw-in is set for 2pm. Meath’s David Gough is the man with the whistle for this one.
We played Monaghan in the first round of the League last year and so, in the indolent world of League fixture planning, it’s the Farney lads we open this year’s campaign against too, only this time we have to travel to their gaff. They beat us by two points in the corresponding fixture at MacHale Park twelve months ago but the year before that we emerged from Clones with the points, thanks in no small part to two late long-range frees converted by Robbie Hennelly.
After our first round encounter last year, Monaghan went on to enjoy (and endure) a rather similar spring campaign to our own. They ended up, like us, on eight points (along with eventual winners Kerry and Donegal) but they finished ahead of us in in the table, in fourth spot, due to a superior points difference. This is how their seven League matches went.
Having beaten us in Round 1, they played out a cagey draw – seven points apiece – against neighbours Cavan but they followed this up with a wonderful win down in Killarney over Kerry. That 2-8 to 1-10 victory saw them top the table after three rounds of matches.
Tyrone, as they’ve so often done to the Farneymen, brought them down to earth in the next round, however, beating them by 0-14 to 0-10 in Omagh at the start of March. Top tier survival was more or less assured two weeks later, though, when they thumped Roscommon by 2-17 to 1-13 in Iniskeen, in the process pushing the Rossies closer to the drop.
Another draw against Ulster opposition followed – this time a 1-11 each result against Donegal in Ballyshannon – before they tackled Dublin in the final round, back home in Clones. They gave a good account of themselves against the still unbeaten Dubs that day in early April and led by three points with 15 minutes left to play but a late Dublin surge proved decisive as Monaghan fell to a 2-15 to 1-15 defeat.
The following month they began their Ulster championship campaign with a preliminary round clash against Fermanagh in Clones. That one was always going the one way, with Monaghan easing to a 1-20 to 1-11 win at the finish. It was tighter when they faced Cavan in the provincial quarter-final in mid-June at Breffni Park but the visitors emerged from that one with a win as well, coming out on top by 1-15 to 0-15.
Monaghan came unstuck in the semi-final, though, when a confident Down team ripped into them at the Athletic Grounds and sent them crashing out of the Ulster championship on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-15. Our defeat to Galway two weeks before then was a bigger upset but Monaghan’s loss to the Mourne County was still one of the few shock results of the early part of the summer.
It always helps to get a soft draw in the qualifiers and Monaghan certainly got that by pulling Wexford in Round 2B. A 3-23 to 1-11 victory over the Model County duly followed in Wexford Park in early July, following which Lady Luck smiled at them once more when they were paired with Carlow in the third round.
The plucky Barrowsiders had, by then, been bigged up as some kind of fairytale of the championship – largely on the back of their success in keeping their losing margin to Dublin to respectable proportions – but Monaghan had few problems in getting by them. They came out of Dr Cullen Park with a 1-12 to 1-7 win.
Then, as so frequently happens to many counties in the championship nowadays, came a Round 4 reckoning against their provincial conquerors. Having bested Monaghan, the Mourne lads had then taken a bit of a whipping against Tyrone in the Ulster final and so they had more of a hang-dog mien about them when they squared up for their second summer joust with the Farneymen. This time the venue was Croke Park.
Monaghan were well ready for their Northern opponents on this occasion and they had eight points to spare over them – winning by 1-24 to 1-16 – to seal a place in the All-Ireland Series for the fourth time in five years. They were no match in the quarters, however, for Dublin who obliterated Malachy O’Rourke’s side by 1-19 to 0-12 on what was, by any measure, a dismal day for the lads from the drumlins.
But sure that was only summer football. No doubt the Monaghan lads have been tearing up the trees in training ever since and will come out of the traps at us like a bunch of wild hoors in Clones the next day. That is, after all, the Ulster template.
The bookies can’t make up their minds on this one. We’re narrow favourites at 10/11 with Paddy Power but, as we all know, odds on League games can be, well, a bit odd. I suppose there’s money to be made (or lost) at that price.
There’s also a game to be won or lost. Let’s haul the poll thingy out of storage, then, to finish up and see what the mood is about our opening fixture in this spring campaign.
How will we do against Monaghan?
- Win (44%, 144 Votes)
- Lose (43%, 140 Votes)
- Draw (12%, 40 Votes)
Total Voters: 324