Donegal can seal arch-rival Farney's fate in Castleblayney
Allianz National Football League Division One: Monaghan v Donegal
(Sunday, Castleblayney, 2pm)
AS MONAGHAN fight to save their skin in Division One, Malachy O’Rourke has made two changes for Sunday’s crunch clash with familiar foes Donegal in Castleblayney.
Ryan McAnespie and Daniel McKenna have been drafted into the Farney full-forward line beside team captain Conor McManus, replacing experienced pair Vinny Corey and Kieran Hughes. Scotstown ace Hughes only returned from an ankle injury in last week's 1-17 to 1-9 defeat to Kerry.
That was Monaghan’s fourth loss in-a-row, leaving the Ulster champions in a perilous position heading into their final game against a Donegal side with whom they have become well acquainted in recent years. The pair have met in the last three provincial finals, with O’Rourke’s men winning two and, of their six meetings in league and Championship since the start of 2013, Monaghan hold the upper hand with four victories to Donegal’s two.
O’Rourke will be hoping they still have the Indian sign over the Tir Chonaill men by the close of play on Sunday afternoon but, even if they do win, it still might not be enough to keep them up. Monaghan and Mayo are locked together on four points, but if they secure the same result, it is Mayo who would remain in the top flight because they beat the Farney men last month.
It is widely expected that Stephen Rochford’s Mayo will account for already-relegated Down in Castlebar on Sunday afternoon. Monaghan can feasibly drag Sunday’s opponents into the mire - but it’s a long shot. In order to send Rory Gallagher’s men down to Division Two, Monaghan would need to win by 13 points, Mayo would need to beat Down by 13 points and Cork would need to get at least a draw against Kerry.
Yet, Donegal can also force their way into the Division One semi-finals if they equal or better Cork’s result in the Kingdom. That will certainly be Gallagher’s intention as he hopes to welcome back Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and midfielder Neil Gallagher, with the absence of defensive pair McGee and McGlynn keenly felt in defeat to Roscommon and Dublin.
And the Tir Chonaill boss insists he is “not concerned about permutations”: “We are looking to go to Monaghan and get a performance,” he said.
“Both counties know each other very well, so there will be no secrets between us. For us, it is another match and another chance to go further in the league. Monaghan will certainly have a big incentive to win and stay up, but we know that a win or a draw would put us into the semi-finals.”
Cahair O'Kane and Neil Loughran run the rule over Sunday's games in Division One:
Donegal travel to Castleblayney on the back of their third successive defeat last weekend but, on the plus side, they have an unusually strong squad to pick from following the Ulster exit of Declan Bonner’s U21s to Tyrone on Wednesday night.
Young Kieran Gillespie made his debut against the Dubs last weekend and performed well, while the experienced Karl Lacey played his first full match since last summer. Paddy McGrath was taken off last week with a calf injury, but is expected to start on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Ryan and Eoin McHugh have been turning in some outstanding displays for Donegal. Eoin McHugh’s searing pace can split any defence, but he needs to take his score after creating the space as, too often, his pass to a colleague is quickly smothered. This will come with more experience and confidence.
The sending-off of Michael Murphy was a big factor in the defeat to Dublin, the Donegal captain being shown two yellow cards at Croke Park. And Gallagher warned there would be days when Donegal have to function without their talismanic leader, Murphy: “There will be days when Michael is injured or just can’t play, so we will just have to deal with that, so it is good that we have so much of a squad to pick from at this time of the year,” he said.
Both sides have plenty to play for on Sunday, not to mention the added needle when these two Ulster heavyweights go toe-to-toe, but Donegal have enough pace and power to consign Monaghan to a fifth consecutive defeat and send them spiralling into Division Two.
Monaghan: R Beggan; C Walshe, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, F Kelly, K O’Connell; N McAdam, D Hughes; S Carey, D Malone, T Kerr; R McAnespie, D McKenna, C McManus.