There are many fierce rivalries in Gaelic football but Mayo v Monaghan isn’t one of them. I’ve just been looking over details of our meetings down the years (I haven’t done this for our other NFL opponents this year as I did the same exercise last year and all our matches up to now were against counties we’d played in 2009) and what’s immediately obvious is how little we’ve come across each other on the field of play over this extended period of time. We are, in truth, footballing strangers – two ships passing each other in the night. Does this mean we should really be playing this weekend’s match under lights?
As the table below shows, we’ve only met each other eleven times in the last sixty-odd years and, of course, we’ve yet to play each other while decked out in our finery in high summer when the stakes are really high. Ten of those matches were in the NFL (no surprise there) while the odd one out was our clash in the 1984 open draw Centenary Cup. We met in that one at Ballina in the second round and they beat us soundly – long, long before we began turning our noses up at the qualifiers, the short-lived open draw competition was one we never took to with any gusto – with all of our six points that day, five of them from frees, being scored by Aghamore’s Padraig Duffy.
That unhappy encounter was the second of seven meetings we had with them in the 1980s – we even met them twice in 1986 – with our Division 2 victory over them in Monaghan town in March 1981 being the first clash between us that I could find in the archive that now stretches back all the way to 1949. For all I know, that meeting 29 years ago could well be the first ever competitive scrap we had with them.
While we drew first blood up in Kavanagh country that day, the Farney lads won three and drew the other one of the four susequent matches we had with them between 1984 and 1986. We were both on the up at that time – they drew with Kerry and we drew with Dublin in the 1985 All-Ireland semi-finals and while we both ended up losing our respective replays, we then came into direct confrontation at Croke Park in the NFL semi-final the following April. It was a match we should have won (one of many, amigos) but which we lost by a point and that was the game that resulted in the Western People’s Ivan Neill coming out with his famous mixed metaphor that if we continued to play this way, we would “always be the bride and never the groom”.
Although Monaghan went on to beat us by a point again later that year up in Contibret, that was the last time they got the better of us and we’ve held the whiphand on them ever since. We’ve won all six meetings since then, the latest of which also took place at Clontibret, this time in March 2006. I hadn’t started at this crack then but I was at that game, with The Brother and his lads, and I know the Spáilpín was there too because he wrote a piece about the game – here it is. It was a match we won comfortably enough, despite David Heaney’s early dismissal (which, incidentally, led to BJP operating at full-back for the first time), and it was clear then that we were teams that were headed in opposite directions. We made the league play-offs that spring – losing an ill-tempered semi-final to Galway – and ended up going all the way to the All-Ireland final whereas they were relegated from Division 1A and have only this year made it back to the top flight, although they’ve given the Kerrymen a few good rattles in the championship via the back door in the meantime.
As regards the stats, our record is one of seven wins, one draw and three losses. In the NFL, it’s seven wins, one draw and two losses and in NFL matches played at home, it’s two wins and a draw. At McHale Park, we’ve won one and drawn one. None of this matters a jot, of course, in attempting to divine how Sunday’s encounter will go, even if the bookies are solidly behind us as we seek to extend further our long winning run against the Farney lads.