We’re racing through this year’s League campaign and by this evening four rounds of matches will be played. Today’s clash with Monaghan up in Clones is no more or no less important than any of our other Division One matches this year but, all the same, a win today would represent a significant statement by us.
We’re underdogs heading to St Tiernach’s Park today. That’s understandable – they’ve cut a nice dash in their three matches to date while we’ve largely stuttered and stumbled along in our opening three games.
That said, we’re both coming into this Round 4 match with the same number of League points – three each – on the board. We both have the same gnawing fears right now about getting dragged into a dogfight to avoid the drop and, equally, we both have the same opportunity today to push on towards top tier safety.
While the former was a delightful Round 1 smash-and-grab success that came courtesy of a late Paddy Durcan point, the latter was a real backs-to-the-wall must-win encounter. We lost our opening three matches that spring and a loss in Clones would surely have seen us heading out of Division One. But we won, thanks to two long-distance frees converted by Robbie Hennelly.
Monaghan’s Round 1 win at MacHale Park in 2017 is their only League success over us since they last returned to the top division. We beat them last year – on the day we qualified for the League final – and we also gave them a right thumping in Castlebar in 2015.
All of which means they’ll be fairly wary of us. I think we often discount this factor when we play teams – Tyrone and Donegal would come into this bracket, Kerry (though only in the League) as well – against whom we have a good record.
Because of our past record against Monaghan, they’ll go into this game with at least some expectation that they’ll lose. And so we should reciprocate with a firm belief that we’ll win.
And we can win. Not because we take the field with a settled team – we’re far from being in that situation right now – but because, as the spring campaign progresses each year, we tend to start putting in increasingly committed performances. Today would be the perfect day to put in the first one in 2020.
With all the switching and shifting it’s difficult to be sure about how the selected team will gel. We’ll be looking for further encouraging signs from both Padraig O’Hora and Oisín Mullin in the full-back line, while hoping that Eoghan MacLaughlin can announce his arrival on the first fifteen in the right kind of way and expecting Aidan O’Shea – who captains the team today – to exert dominance around the middle.
But it’s up front where we need to see more purpose and incisiveness. We’re simply not scoring enough so far this year and that needs to change. That change has to start today.
Fergal Boland has been chipping in with a few points every game but others, notably Diarmuid O’Connor, Ryan O’Donoghue and James Carr, need to start weighing in on the board to greater effect. The returning Darren Coen will hopefully give us greater thrust inside and will also, most likely, be entrusted with the troublesome free-taking duties.
Surveying the line-up, then, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the team we’re going with but sure isn’t that the case most match days in spring? Today’s the day for the lads who’ve been picked to go out and answer those questions and, in the process, buttress further a fine recent record against today’s opponents.
For a change, I’m heading to this one from the west, having been in Mayo for the weekend so I’ll be taking the same route to Clones as most of the rest of you. It’s a bit of a cross-country trek, on dodgy enough roads in spots, so, as ever, it’s best to take care on the way. While listening to the Monaghan preview episode of the podcast, needless to say. That’s here.
Right, it’s time to get ready and then time to hit the road. Clones here we come, with League points on our mind and victory the target we’re aiming at. Back later with all the usual post-match reports and the rest. Up Mayo.