Right, it’s Monday evening and the countdown is on in earnest ahead of our Round 1 qualifier clash with Monaghan. The game takes place this coming Saturday at MacHale Park, where throw-in is 4pm. Barry Cassidy of Derry is the ref and the match is being broadcast live on Sky Sports.
It’s just under four months since we last played the Farney County. That was in Round 2 of this year’s League when we went up to Clones and came away from there with an unexpected but hugely gratifying 2-10 to 0-11 win.
That victory at St Tiernach’s Park was fashioned in large part from the two goals we got, one in each half. Man of the Match Ryan O’Donoghue (who posted 1-6 that afternoon) and Jason Doherty were the players to find the net for us in that game. With the former a major doubt for Saturday while the latter is still feeling the after-effects of the long lay-off, it’s easy to see why there’s a fair bit of trepidation among our supporters about Saturday. And that’s before we start talking about all our other injury concerns.
But let’s talk instead about Monaghan. Ahead of the League meeting in February I did a piece looking at how they’d been getting on over the previous twelve months so there’s no need to rehash all that again. The piece in question is here.
Of greater interest is what they’ve been up to since. No more than us, it’s been a bit up and down.
After our meeting, they drew away against Armagh, lost by eight at home to Kerry, beat Donegal by two in Ballybofey (inflicting a first League defeat in over a decade on Donegal at the venue) and then lost by nine away to Kildare. This meant they came into their Round 7 meeting with Dublin at Clones needing a win to stay up, while knowing that such a result would also relegate Dessie Farrell’s team.
On the podcast last week, Malachy Clerkin pointed to his native county’s Houdini-like success in avoiding relegation from Division One in recent years. In each of the last three seasons, they’ve entered injury time in their final League game in the ejector seat but every time they’ve managed to wriggle to safety.
They did it again, of course, this year. A 45-metre free from Jack McCarron deep in stoppage time earned the Farneymen a one-point win over the Dubs, ending the Metropolitans’ 13-year stay in the top tier in the process while keeping Monaghan up.
But, as Malachy also said on the pod – to what end? Monaghan are now the second longest serving county in Division One but they’ve had little or nothing to show for this when push has come to shove in the Championship in recent years.
Last year they can count themselves a bit unlucky, losing by the minimum margin in a knockout Ulster final to eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone. This year luck played no part in how they fared out within the province, where their run ended at the semi-final stage.
They whipped a wretched Down by ten points in the quarter-final in late April before taking on Derry, shock winners over Tyrone in the quarters, for a place in the Anglo-Celt Cup decider.
That semi-final at the Athletic Grounds proved the goals-win-games adage, with Derry bagging three of them to emerge with a 3-12 to 0-17 win. This wasn’t the same kind of paddling that the Oakleafers had handed out to the hapless O’Neill County in the previous round but it was, in Ulster terms, a decisive enough win for Rory Gallagher’s charges.
It was a result that has sent Monaghan in our direction, for a first ever Championship meeting between our two counties. It’s also a rare outing for Monaghan away to a Connacht county in the qualifiers.
Looking back at how they’ve fared out in back door campaigns in recent years, their record is anaemic enough. Since their most recent provincial success in 2015, they’ve lost out at home to Longford in Round 2 in 2016, beat Wexford and Carlow (both away) and Down to reach the quarters in 2017 (where they were well beaten by Dublin), beat Waterford, Leitrim and Laois (all away) to reach the Super-8s in 2018 and beat Fermanagh at home in Round 1 before losing at home in Round 2 to Armagh in 2019.
It’s not exactly stellar stuff, is it? I searched back over the years for any qualifier win away from home of any real note and the only one I came across was a one-point victory over Donegal in Ballybofey back as far as 2008.
The Super-8 campaign of 2018 did, however, see them travel to Pearse Stadium and give Galway a good thumping. That’s clearly of more relevance than the win over Donegal ten years previously but it wasn’t a qualifier match and the reality is that Monaghan have no recent track record of beating opposition like us away from home in a back door clash.
It doesn’t help their cause either that, despite our extremely poor home record, we’ve yet to lose a qualifier match at MacHale Park. If it wasn’t for our long injury list, you’d really have to fancy us strongly to win this one.
But the injury list is a factor, afflicting as it does so many of our most important players. So too is the prospect of taking on, in the narrow confines of MacHale Park, a team that’s well adept at defending in numbers and breaking fast upfield.
We’re still favourites to win but this one could be very close and it could go either way. I’m finding it hard to plump for a winner in it – what about yourselves? Let’s end with a poll on that.
Will we beat Monaghan?
- Yes (60%, 535 Votes)
- No (40%, 358 Votes)
Total Voters: 893