Monaghan name four novices for the visit of Orchard county
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Group C: Monaghan v Armagh
(Sunday, Clones, 2pm)
THE losers can forget about a place in the semi-finals and the possibility of an extra game or two to break up their pre-league schedule.
Hosts Monaghan and visitors Armagh were both well beaten in their opening games and they will hope for better scoring returns on Sunday at Clones, where 70 minutes on the St Tiernach’s Park pitch will do wonders for both sides’ fitness levels.
There’ll be more run-outs for young hopefuls in both camps and Monaghan have drafted in the experience of Drew Wylie, Dessie Mone and Neil McAdam, who all start for the first time this year. They will slot in alongside experienced campaigners like Colin Walshe, Owen Duffy and Dermot Malone, but there is still an experimental look to Malachy O’Rourke’s team.
Goalkeeper Jamie Smith is one of four players from Ulster junior champions Rockcorry who are named to start on Sunday. Smith is making his debut as are Niall McKeown at corner-back and Fergal McGeough at corner-forward. Meanwhile, Mark Thornton makes his first start alongside McAdam in midfield and Donal Courtney - from the Blackhill Emeralds club - comes in at wing half-back.
“We have a number of fellas in for trials - we have a fairly big panel - and it’s trying to get a look at them, but we have to be mindful that the experienced players need games as well,” O’Rourke said.
“It’s trying to get everyone up to speed for the start of the National League. We know Armagh will be a good competitive game, so hopefully it will stand to us moving on.”
Getting extra games in the semi-final and final is often identified as one of the benefits of the McKenna Cup, but O’Rourke says progressing in the competition hasn’t made an impact on Monaghan’s league form during his time with the Farney men.
“We’re just trying to improve the performance from week-to-week,” said O’Rourke, who is now in his fourth year as manager.
“The first year we were there, we got to the final; the second year, we got to the semi-final and, last year, we didn’t get out of the group. To be honest, we started the league fairly well in all three years.
“I don’t think it makes that big of a difference, it’s more about getting game-time into the fellas and getting them ready for the league. But we’ll be trying to win the game and, if that takes us to a final, then that would be great.”
Monaghan trailed Ulster University by 10 points at the final whistle last Sunday, but they fought hard for two-thirds of the game against the star-studded student side. The Farney men had an experimental team out and, though they were soundly beaten at the finish, they did scrap their way back from five points down to leave just a point in it 13 minutes into the second-half.
“The final scoreline against Jordanstown didn’t look pretty, but we were happy with how we played in periods of the game,” said O’Rourke.
“The thing about it at this year is there are fellas who are playing together for the first time in their lives and you can’t expect everything to be cohesive. There were some things that worked well for us and we wouldn’t have done that much work in December in the field and we are a wee bit behind in terms of fitness.”
Meanwhile, Armagh will be without Brendan Donaghy for the trip to Clones. Donaghy was red-carded against Cavan in Crossmaglen and manager Kieran McGeeney could give defender Ruairí McCaughley a second start.
Jemar Hall, Niall Grimley and Joe McElroy all saw action against the Breffni men, while Madden’s Joe Feeney and Ballymacnab clubman Rory Grugan returned to the fold.
Armagh couldn’t raise a gallop in the first-half, which ended with them six points behind against 13 men - David Givney was sent-off after six minutes and Josh Hayes followed him 12 minutes later. Armagh lacked creativity in attack, but they did improve in the second-half and were dominating the game until the midway point, when Donaghy and midfielder Aaron Findon were shown red cards - Findon’s was for two yellows.
Armagh also lost Andy Murnin and Charlie Vernon to black cards, so improved discipline will be important as the Orchard men look to build towards their return to Division Two action away to Meath on January 31.
Monaghan: J Smith; K Duffy, D Wylie, N McKeown, D Mone; C Walshe, D Courtney; N McAdam, M Thornton; D Malone, S Gollogly, O Duffy; F McGeough, B McGinn, D McKenna; Subs: M Keogh, K McQuaid, O Coyle, K O’Connell, A Courtney, P Keenan, C McKenna, D Treanor, J McCarron, F Kelly, J McCarron