Farney out to end Kingdom's reign
All-Ireland Minor Football Championship semi-final: Kerry v Monaghan (tomorrow, Croke Park, 1.30pm, live on TG4)
SO how do you beat the team that seemingly can't be beaten? That's the question posed to Monaghan as they prepare for tomorrow's All-Ireland Minor semi-final against Kerry at Croke Park.
The Kingdom's recent domination at this level is exceptional in both its quality and unusualness.
The statistics speak for themselves. The county's senior team may have famously failed in their ‘drive for five' in 1982 but if the green and gold ribbons of Kerry (Meath are in the other semi-final) are draped around the Tom Markham Cup on September 2 then they will have managed their own quintet of success.
Their 28-game unbeaten run – one that stretches all the way back to the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Tyrone – is extra special as it has been completed despite the huge turnover of players that accompanies underage football while the management team also changed from Jack O'Connor's to Peter Keane's three years ago.
Still, if there's one man that will be relishing the challenge then it's Farney manager Seamus McEnaney. It would be rather neat if Kerry's run was book-ended by defeats to Tyrone and Monaghan given that those two Ulster neighbours will clash in the senior fixture.
There is reason to believe that Monaghan can achieve that as they are an extremely strong side. They are particularly impressive in attack with all six attackers carrying a genuine threat.
A couple of those in particular have been sensational, not least half-forward Aaron Mulligan who has brought real craft to the attack as well as 3-22 in scores. The Latton youngster is a fine soccer player too and has represented the Republic of Ireland at U17 level, and he seems like a player that will enjoy the Croke Park experience.
Equally important will be free-taker Sean Jones who has caught the eye in schools football in recent year as he spear-headed the Patrician High attack.
He helped bring a first Brock Cup to the school last season and seven of his teammates that day featured for Monaghan in their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kildare two weeks ago. That familiarity can only be a good thing for manager McEnaney.
Kerry's recent success, of course, has also come on the back of the emergence of some brilliant school teams and although the age grade change means that the Hogan Cup isn't as closely linked to the minor competition anymore, many of their players have still been catching the eye at post-primary level. Conor Flannery, Colm Moriarty, Dylan Geaney and Killian Falvey are just some of those who enhanced their reputations via that route.
It's Brosna's Paul Walsh who should be most closely watched though. Impossible to miss with his long ginger curls, he has been a revelation in Kerry's four games, kicking 3-18 for Keane's side.
Walsh has been their best player in three of their four games and it's interesting to note that on his quietest day, when Cork's David Buckley wrapped him up after he had struck for an early goal, the Kingdom just sneaked over the line. You can be sure that nugget has made it into ‘Banty's' little notebook.
Jack Doogan may be the tasked with trying to keep Walsh quiet with team captain Brendán Og O Dufaigh likely to be given the license to push forward rather than a man-marking role.
The problem with Kerry this year, and for the last four years, is that keeping their star man quiet may not be enough. It proved an impossible task when David Clifford was leading their line but even if Walsh is subdued, they have so much class elsewhere.
In the time since Monaghan last reached an All-Ireland Minor final, Kerry have won 12 and reached another 10 deciders.
These counties could barely be further away on the food chain and unfortunately by 3pm tomorrow, even with a partisan Farney crowd behind them, Monaghan will still be trying to end the wait from their sole final appearance in 1939.
The other semi-final takes place today with Meath, who were superb in Leinster, looking good to get past Galway at Croke Park (3pm).