ULSTER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
Monaghan v Derry
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 4pm
By Shaun Casey
2007 was a landmark year for Monaghan. They reached a first Ulster final since 1988 and did so by defeating Derry to end a 22-year wait for a championship win over the Oak Leaf County.
It’s all changed now and the Farney men are used to competing on Ulster final day. They’ve reached the showpiece six times since, lifting the Anglo Celt Cup twice in 2013 and 2015.
Ciaran Hanratty was part of the team that made the breakthrough in 2007 and points to Monaghan’s Division One status as key to their recent success.
“That Derry team that we would have come across, they were in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2004, they won a Division One National League in 2008, that was a really strong Derry group. It probably was a wee bit different the last number of years, Monaghan were in a different place at that stage,” he said.
“A lot of that team managed to get over the line in 2013 and made a couple of Ulster finals in a row. It was step by step for a long period of time and definitely the consistency of being in Division One has helped.
“Monaghan are used to playing at that high level and they’ve been generally fairly competitive.”
The addition of a fit Jack McCarron along with target man Gary Mohan have given the Monaghan attack a new dimension.
“The way Monaghan played three or four years ago maybe didn’t give Jack the greatest platform as another out and out scoring forward to maybe reach his potential. The style that they were playing didn’t allow for a second Conor McManus for want of a better phrase.
“There seems to be a positive, attacking style the last year or two. Football in general has turned around that way and that has given Jack an outlet to show how good he is.
“Gary does offer a very different outlet, a target. He definitely breaks a couple of holes, and no defender gets anything easy when you have two pretty sharp guys in Jack and ‘Mansy’ (McManus) hovering around him to pick up anything.
“You have an interesting balance which is good to see. It does ask a different question of the defence and it’s just another string to Monaghan’s bow because things aren’t always going to go to plan.”
Seamus McEnaney’s men were ten-point winners over Down in the quarter final and the concession of two goals doesn’t worry Hanratty too much.
“Would it concern me? It’s probably better to have them on that day when they were comfortable. I’d say they’ll have looked at that fairly closely and tried to figure out what happened.
“I think the positive was they reacted well to it and took control of the game again. I think it was probably better for it to happen there, any lapses or complacency that could come in.
“They’ll have had pretty good warnings, so I’d be hoping that going into the game, they’re playing a much better team in Derry, but I’d say it was a pretty good warning sign. You don’t like to concede them but maybe that was the day to do it and they’ll be a wee bit sharper and maybe keep a clean sheet this weekend that could hopefully bring them a long way towards getting a win.”
Monaghan have a chance to get back to the provincial decider, but they face an in-form Derry side, fresh off dethroning All-Ireland champions Tyrone.
“Probably the last two or three years since Rory Gallagher went in, he seems to have put a bit of shape on them. The majority of their best players are playing and seem to be involved for the most part.
“They’ll fancy themselves as in that top ten level of team which is where Monaghan are as well. They’re coming in, they look really good in the Tyrone game albeit Tyrone were a little bit flat and maybe not quite at themselves.
“The sending off, the result wasn’t really in doubt after that happened, but they still had to close it out. Three years ago, would they have done that? Possibly not.
“They were impressive, they kicked cracking scores, they showed a real bit of energy and positivity in how they played. For a team that knocked out the All-Ireland champions, they’ll have a pep in their step, and they’ll definitely fancy themselves this weekend.”
READ MORE – Martin McElkennon looks at the Derry v Monaghan camps he was involved in. Click here…