BY NIALL GARTLAND
REIGNING Ulster minor champions Monaghan are mad for road according to their new manager Mark Counihan. They’ll potentially have to play three times in as many weeks depending on how they fare in this Saturday’s preliminary round clash against Down, with a looming quarter-final clash against Antrim the prize for the victors.
The Farney youngsters are coming off the back of an extra-time defeat to Tyrone in Saturday’s Ulster minor league final, but their manager says they aren’t unduly worried about their busy schedule.
“These boys are all 16 or 17 years off age and they’re mad keen for football morning, noon and night.
“They won’t be using Saturday’s match as an excuse if we lose this weekend. We came through it injury free so we’re happy enough with the situation.”
Of some concern is that Monaghan only mustered a single point in the second-half against Tyrone, but it should be noted that they also missed five chances which would have earned them some early-season silverware.
Subsequently they seemed to run out of gas in the second-half of extra-time, but their manager says the main purpose of the league was readying themselves for the championship.
“We wanted to use the league to test out our panel to see how good it was and we’re delighted with how the league campaign went as a whole.
“We’re disappointed that we lost in extra-time but the bigger picture was always the championship and getting ready for the Down game.
“Monaghan claimed last year’s Ulster Championship title with a victory over Derry before their campaign came to an end with a semi-final defeat to Kerry. Seamus McEnaney’s team gave a valiant display against the Kingdom, who ended up winning their fifth All- Ireland title in a row, and Counihan says their returning players are crucial to the cause.
“There are three starters still around from last year’s team, they’re great leaders within the group. We’ve another three or four guys who were also on last year’s panel, they’ve been there and know what it’s about. They’re great to have around the places and they’re level-headed lads.”
Counihan also believes that there was an element of shadow boxing in the league as they played within the same group as Down and potential quarter-final opponents Antrim.
“There was a lot of shadow boxing going on in the league. What we got out of it is that we found out more about our panel and the players we have. It’s a new management team and set-up this year so we needed to find out those things and we used the league to do that.”