By Shaun Casey
THE narrative surrounding Saturday’s first round suggests a fairly one-sided affair between Monaghan and Down, but Paul Finlay isn’t buying it.
The Ballybay man has been around long enough to know that anything can happen in the championship and suggests that Monaghan are facing into the unknown when they host the Mourne County in Clones.
“There certainly is a little bit of unknown, I’ve never heard such negative commentary coming out of a county like Down, with the rich tradition that they have. I know they haven’t been at their highest points in the last few years but they seem to have reached new lows.
“It’s a case of, you don’t really know what’s coming or what you’re going to get which is always a danger in its own right because a team can circle the wagons and they can feel that the world’s against them with people within their own county commenting on their set up.
“That can really garner an inner belief and a steeliness within the squad that they have to come out and prove themselves. I can see Down coming to Clones this weekend with nothing to lose.
“Everybody outside their own group expects them to get beat and that’s not a bad place to be. They can really throw caution to the wind and their going out without any pressure on your shoulders. That could help them.
“If they get a good start, you could really see them growing in confidence, but we just haven’t seen any signs of that, and I suppose you’ll know more come Saturday evening where their preparations over the last number of weeks have actually been at.”
Monaghan will have to deal with the weight of expectation and the pressure that comes with being big favourites heading into the game.
“I think there’s pressure going into this weekend because they’re heavy favourites and that’s something that Monaghan will need to deal with. That’s just the nature of it because, they’re playing Division One and Down dropped to Division Three, so there’s different levels there and Monaghan just need to come out and show that that’s the case.
“But we know that championship can bring on a team in a different light, it’s a one-off game. Every Ulster Championship game brings a little bit of pressure and there’s more on Monaghan because they’re heavy favourites but it’s something that they should be able to deal with.”
Monaghan’s inconsistency throughout the league campaign is another concern that Finlay notes, although he hopes the confidence of beating Dublin to remain in the topflight will help gather momentum ahead of the championship.
“Unfortunately, from a league perspective, there were a couple of really poor performances in there for Monaghan and there were a couple of very good ones and they finished on a really good note against Dublin.
“It’s certainly in the back of my mind, that there is a wee bit of inconsistency with Monaghan this year and it’s kind of a case of which Monaghan will show up.
“If it’s the one that we saw the last day against Dublin, that would bode well for them, and it would ensure that their performance levels would be up to a good high standard which really should help them get the victory on the day.
“There’s a lot of ifs, ands and buts in there but I really do feel that Monaghan are concentrating on themselves.
“The commentary that’s coming in Down and outside of Down and all around the media circles isn’t helpful for Monaghan but I would say there’s enough experience in the Monaghan side to be dealing with that this week.
“I said at the time (after beating Dublin) that everybody should be heading back to championship training in good form with the morale high in camp and that always helps training.
“You would have thought coming out of the last day of the league, victory against Dublin when your backs are to the wall, it certainly should breed some confidence into the group.”