By Shaun Casey
AFTER suffering a heavy defeat to Tyrone in the opening round of the league, Monaghan bounced back to win their three remaining games, which included victory over this weekend’s opponents Antrim.
That tie with the Saffrons was the final round of the campaign and Monaghan were 20 points ahead by the end of the game.
“We had them in our last league game, and we have them in the championship now,” said Monaghan boss Mark Counihan, who is in his fourth year in charge.
“We know from the league game that we had with Antrim there’s going to be a few changes to the Antrim side, so we’ll be expecting a tough outing in Inniskeen.
“We were probably slow out of the blocks just with school activity and that but once we’ve got all the boys back on board now, we’re progressing well and we’re happy with where we’re at heading into the championship.
“We had a big defeat on the opening day against Tyrone, but we probably would have been short a few players because of the school activity. Since tthen we’ve progressed so we’re happy. We had wins against Armagh, Down and Antrim but we know come championship, it’ll be a very different story.
“I suppose if you look at the league, both sides of the league, there were quite heavy defeats in a lot of games but that tends to tighten up come championship with teams getting to know their players a bit better and getting a wee stronger as the competition goes on.”
The Farney side suffered a first-round exit to Donegal in last year’s Ulster Minor Championship, but more time and a better structure provides a much better opportunity this time around.
“There was a massive crossover with the 2020 season and the 2021 so we’d only three weeks to prepare in essence because we had the 2020 Ulster final and then three weeks later you were playing the 2021 (championship).
“There was a big crossover of players as well, so we just felt that panel didn’t get a proper run at it. It’s good to start fresh this year, it’s good to get a league campaign back in again.
“I think the structure in Ulster is the best structure in the four provinces, getting a league and a backdoor championship. We’re delighted with how preparations are going so far and looking forward to getting started in the championship now.”
Monaghan will head into Friday’s encounter as huge favourites to progress and make the semi-finals. But they must do so without their captain Sean Callan. The half-back suffered a hamstring injury and will be unavailable.
“He’s a fantastic leader. We let the players vote for their captain and it says a lot for a young fella when his peers pick him as captain. He will be a big loss to us but it’s an opportunity for somebody else to step in and make a claim for a spot.”