It’s time, I guess, to bank those two valuable National League points claimed down in Tralee and switch the focus instead onto the Division One Round 7 game against Monaghan facing us this coming weekend. This one is a Sunday afternoon fixture, throwing in at MacHale Park at 2pm, where Tipperary’s Derek O’Mahoney will have the whistle.
It’s hard to figure out Monaghan. One minute they’re exceeding expectations, the next underperforming. Malachy O’Rourke and his players are, for sure, performing at a high level – all the more noteworthy given the size of the county and the small pick available to them – but consistency of performance has proven a bit of a problem for them.
That may not have been the case for them in last year’s League campaign, where they won five times – beating Kildare, Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin – losing only to ourselves and Galway to earn third place in the Division One table. But it has been the pattern since then.
This started in Ulster last summer where, following a surprise 1-18 to 1-16 win over Tyrone that saw them installed as favourites to land the provincial title, they then promptly stumbled to semi-final defeat against Fermanagh, losing that low-scoring encounter by 1-8 to 0-10.
Like ourselves, defeat in the provincial championship left them with a bit to do to reach the Super 8s but, unlike us, this was a feat they proved able for. Mind you, had we been presented with a route featuring Waterford (whom they hammered 5-21 to 0-9 in Round 2), Leitrim (1-19 to 0-9 in Round 3) and Laois (0-19 to 1-11 in Round 4) we wouldn’t have complained either.
Having safely cleared those modest hurdles, Monaghan were bracketed in Group 1 of the Super 8s and it was here that their season suddenly took off. Having beaten Kildare by 0-15 to 1-10 at Croke Park in Phase 1, the Farneymen then almost pulled off a major shock by doing everything but beat Kerry in Clones. They would have too, but for David Clifford’s moment of magic that snatched a draw at the death for a severely rattled Kerry team.
That 1-17 apiece draw did, though, leave Kerry’s hopes hanging by a thread, as they’d already lost to Galway in Phase 1. The Tribesmen looked set to top the Group when, after beating Kildare in Phase 2, they had Monaghan at home in the final round. But that’s when Malachy O’Rourke’s side upped the gas again, doling out a comprehensive 0-16 to 0-8 beating to Galway in Pearse Stadium, which had the dual effect of ensuring that Monaghan qualified for the semis having topped the Group 1 table while also eliminating Kerry.
That win, though, saw Monaghan paired in the semi-final for the second time last summer with Tyrone. In retrospect it was almost inevitable they’d lose this one – as they’d done to the same opposition at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage in both 2013 and again in 2015, when both times they’d arrived at HQ as Ulster champions – and lose it they did, going under agonisingly by 1-13 to 0-15.
Overall, though, 2018 had to be counted as a major success for the Farney County. Now established as one of the leading forces in the game they had every right to look forward to this year with considerable optimism.
They started the year in fine form too, beating All-Ireland champions Dublin by 2-13 to 1-13 in Round 1 of this year’s League. This win in Clones was their second League victory in a row over Dublin and it marked the first ever time Jim Gavin had suffered successive losses to the same county as Dublin manager.
That win should have set Monaghan up for another positive spring campaign. It didn’t and instead they soon became embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation, a fight they haven’t fully won heading into our meeting with them.
It all started to go wrong in Round 2 where they unexpectedly came unstuck, by 1-12 to 0-13, away to Roscommon. A second defeat to Connacht opposition followed, this time on home turf as Galway left Iniskeen with the spoils on a scoreline of 1-9 to 0-11.
Things went from bad to worse in Round 4 as Tyrone comprehensively mastered them in Healy Park, winning comfortably by 1-16 to 0-12. Another defeat followed in Round 5 but this time Monaghan’s performance level was far higher as they went toe-to-toe all afternoon with Kerry in Killarney before the Kingdom pulled away late on to win by 0-17 to 0-13.
That meant that last Saturday’s derby meeting with Cavan at Clones was, in effect, a relegation decider. It was here that Monaghan’s League campaign finally took a turn to the positive, the 0-14 to 1-8 win they chiselled out that day giving them a small bit of breathing space going into the final round.
In truth, they’re probably safe enough no matter how they fare against us on Sunday. Cavan and Roscommon sit below them in the table and with the former playing Dublin and the latter up against Kerry in the final round it’d be a major surprise if either were to have leapfrogged Malachy O’Rourke’s charges come Sunday evening.
That said, surprise results do happen from time to time in the League so the Farney lads will for sure arrive in Castlebar knowing that their best route to survival lies in doing what they can to help themselves. If they beat us then they’re definitely safe so you can be sure that’s what they’ll be aiming to do.
For our part, of course, there’s a possible League final appearance dangling in front of us. Unlike Monaghan, though, our fate doesn’t rest entirely in our own hands because, even if we win on Sunday, should Galway overcome Tyrone up in Healy Park they’ll make the Division One decider ahead of us.
Like Monaghan, though, we’ll know that getting the win in Castlebar is what we need to focus on. All of which should make for a tasty enough battle at MacHale Park the next day.
It’s one in which the bookies favour us to do the business. Paddy Power have us on offer at 4/7 and they’ve also installed us, by the way, as 9/2 second favourites – behind 8/15 Kerry – to win the Division One title outright.
Odds, shmodds – let’s finish by injecting a bit of gut instinct into the proceedings: how do you think we’ll do on Sunday?
How will we do against Monaghan?
- Win (68%, 458 Votes)
- Lose (22%, 149 Votes)
- Draw (9%, 62 Votes)
Total Voters: 669