Resurgent Monaghan could be the ones to watch after pushing Dublin to the wire
IN his Irish Independent column at the weekend, former Kerry star Tomas O Se looked back at an eventful National League and considered whether any of the chasing pack had closed the gap on the mighty Dubs.
Tyrone started strongly but fell away while concerns remain about their forward power. Kerry showed their best against Dublin in Tralee but it still wasn’t enough, and Mayo are Mayo.
O Se, with good reason, picked out Donegal as the county who have shown something different after being written off at the start of the League.
Surprisingly, though, there was no mention of Monaghan.
Despite Ulster title successes in 2013 and 2015, they have yet to make a mark on the All-Ireland stage under Malachy O’Rourke, but the Farneymen look a rejuvenated unit in 2017.
On Sunday they pushed Jim Gavin’s back-to-back All-Ireland winners hard - holding a six-point lead 10 minutes into the second half - while the emergence of the free-scoring Jack McCarron has given them an added dimension.
The Farney players left the St Tiernach’s Park field crestfallen following their late defeat, an indication of the strides that have been made.
“We’re probably disappointed in ourselves,” admitted forward Gavin Doogan.
“We honestly thought we could push on and get to a League final – that would have probably been our ambition at the start of the year. We got to a Division Three final, won it, Division Two, won it, and Division One was something we were really looking to kick on and get into.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t, we fell short, and we just have to try and get back there next year or in the years to come.
“The guys worked tremendously hard, Dublin are an exceptional team, you see the performances they’re putting up this year, but you couldn’t be more proud of the boys and the performance they put in today.”
With their unbeaten run now extended to 36 games, the bounty on Dublin’s head continues to rise, and Doogan says Monaghan had fancied their chances of taking the most prized scalp in Gaelic football.
“Yeah, absolutely, it would’ve probably been the talk or in the back of your head,” added the Magheracloone man.
“Against Tyrone and Donegal they were pinned to their collar and they came back and got draws - unfortunately for us they came back and pushed on and got across the line.
“Look, there’s things we have to work on, the League finishes today and we’ll have to start focusing on our Championship campaign and Fermanagh in May.”
An influx of players from the Ulster U21-winning team of last year has added a buoyancy to the Farney collective, but it is the eye-catching performances of McCarron that have really set tongues wagging.
Ravaged by injuries in recent years, it is only now that the 24-year-old is really getting the chance to show what he is capable of at senior level, bagging 3-29 in just over five games during the League.
And Doogan admits he is delighted to see the Currin dynamo strutting his stuff in county colours.
He said: “Jack’s an exceptional talent.
“He was probably plagued with a few bad injuries at the wrong time but he’s got himself right this year and it’s a joy to play with Jack – left foot, right foot, he really makes things happen and he’s had a massive campaign.
“Knowing Jack this last few years I’m absolutely thrilled for him, he’s in blinding form, then you’ve the guys coming in from the U21s – Conor McCarthy, Miceal Bannigan, James Mealiff… all these guys are pushing on.
“It’s only a matter of time before these guys break on and start taking one-to-15 places. That’s where Monaghan are going, starting to blood new players and looking forward to the years ahead.”