Following Donegal’s meek surrender and Mayo’s magnificent win last weekend, attention turns this weekend to round 4B of the All-Ireland qualifiers, where Monaghan take on Down and Kildare face Armagh.
Monaghan have the chance to avenge last month’s defeat in the Ulster Championship semi-final against Down, when they take on the beaten Ulster Championship Finalists at 5 p.m. in Croke Park and shown live on Sky Sports.
Down’s 1-14 to 0-15 win against Monaghan was probably one of the biggest shocks of the championship so far this year, given that when the sides met last year, the Farney men were victorious by a margin of 19 points.
A raft of retirements and changes in personnel did not augur well for the Mourne men at the beginning of this season but their approach to the semi-final was a joy to watch, as Eamon Burns’ charges put in a fearless display against all the odds.
Few watching the coverage on TV or in Clones would have given them a hope, even with them winning on the home straight, as it seemed inevitable that Monaghan were going to catch them, but in the end they hung on for a memorable win.
Their final against Tyrone was not their finest hour, as they lost 2-17 to 0-15 but there were moments in the game that will have given the Down men hope for this weekend’s encounter.
Monaghan began their journey through the backdoor with a comprehensive victory against Wexford, winning by 3-23 to 1-11. That was followed by a tougher assignment against Carlow, where Malachy O’Rourke’s men needed a late goal from Fintan Kelly to put Carlow to the sword.
Two very different routes since the teams last met one another and it will be hard to guess who will come out on top on Saturday evening. Conventional wisdom says that Monaghan will have too much for the Mourne lads the second time around, when the element of surprise has been taken away.
Connor McManus and Jack McCarron were unusually quiet in the previous outing and O’Rourke will be hoping that his two forwards can hit form at the right time. Down will be hoping that Connaire Harrison, Caolan Mooney and Kevin McKernan can hit the same type of form that caused such a shock in the Ulster Championship clash.
Down will look at the problems Monaghan faced with Carlow and hope that they can keep scorers like McCarron and McManus quiet. If they do manage to overturn their neighbours for the second time this year, it will be a fabulous achievement for the Down players, but on the other hand, a defeat on Saturday will diminish the Ulster Championship victory.
For Monaghan, their manager will be instilling a belief in them that if they can overcome this hurdle, they could lengthen their summer considerably and the carrot of a possible match against rivals Tyrone is sure to be worth fighting for.
It promises to be an intriguing encounter, but I feel that Monaghan will have too much this time around but I also backed them last time, so here’s to a great game.