Jack McCarron aims for Super 8 buzz with Monaghan
MONAGHAN forward Jack McCarron hopes his side can reach the last eight of this year's All-Ireland series to create the buzz around Clones that Dublin brought last year.
The All-Ireland champions, who went on to beat the Farney men on their way to a third Sam Maguire success in-a-row, attracted a crowd 13,227 to St Tiernach's Park, creating something of a Championship feel in early April.
One of the key selling points of the Super 8 series was that the eight counties involved would all be guaranteed a home quarter-final, as well as one game at Croke Park.
While McCarron admits that it might not be the perfect solution to the woes of the Championship as a whole, he is certainly enticed by the prospect of a big game in Clones.
“It's hard to know what to make of it. It needed to be changed up. Whether the Super 8s is the best scenario for it I'm not too sure but it definitely needed to be changed.
“The round-robin style for the whole Championship might work. But the Super 8s is a good incentive for any team to try and get to the last eight.
“Even the likes of ourselves, we had Dublin in the last game of the League in Clones, it created a serious buzz around the place.
“It would be great to get the likes of Dublin, Mayo, Kerry down in Clones for a Championship game. There are pros and cons to it but it's a big incentive at the start of the year, most teams will be trying to get there and hope to bring some of the bigger teams to smaller venues and see how they fare out.”
It's a long road to there for most but for Monaghan and Tyrone, it seems especially daunting right now.
May 20 will see Monaghan step out at Healy Park with the winner knowing they'll have done a fair chunk of the work towards a provincial crown.
The losers will have had their ambitions dented even more seriously than in the past. The condensed calendar and the introduction of the Super 8 quarter-finals means that anyone coming from round two of the qualifiers will have to play on five consecutive weekends.
The last two of those would be against another pair of the top eight in the country, and with a third game after a single week's break, the provincial path looks all the more appealing again.
“You'd maybe have some experience of that from the League and maybe if you do get on a roll, you never know what might happen if you get to the Super 8s if that was the case.
“We have a massive game against Tyrone first, so once the League's over that's where we'll be.”
It seemed last April like Monaghan had found all the answers they'd been looking for in the shape of the Currin man.
Having missed the opening two games as he recovered from the latest in a line of injuries, he took Division One by storm, hitting 3-28 in the final five games, including 1-9 against Dublin on the final day.
That afternoon ended in disappointment as a late Jack McCaffrey goal snatched a place in the decider away, but the first 69 minutes seemed like a cause for great optimism.
125 days later, it had all dissipated. They were beaten out the gates of Croke Park by the Dubs, ten points between them and all the questions returned rather than answered.
The summer didn't go as well as the spring for McCarron, by his own admission. He had his moments, not least in a good second half against Down in Croker, but there were tough moments for the 24-year-old too.
“I dunno what it was. It was only March when I came back and everything was just clicking in the League.
“The points were going over the bar. I was still getting the chances in Championship but I just didn't convert them.
“That was probably the main difference, the accuracy level. I wouldn't say it was down to the pressure.
“It's hard to put a finger on it. I don't know what it was but it was disappointing the way the Championship panned out for myself.
“It might have been a wee bit of a step-up but the latter stages of the League, you're playing Division One football against a lot of the top teams. The Championship was maybe a bit of a higher tempo and that might have been a factor as well.”
It was far from just him. There was such quiet optimism heading into the summer and wins over Fermanagh and Cavan seemed to have them well on their way to a mammoth Ulster final with Tyrone.
But their paths never crossed as Down intervened on that memorable evening in Armagh. It set Monaghan off on a different path that wasn't smooth. The difficulties in shaking off Carlow and Down perhaps wilted the hopes of a bigger scalp.
“The Championship didn't go great, it was a poor campaign. We never really got going at all,” says McCarron.
“It was disappointing not to push on and get to an Ulster final, and then in Croke Park against Dublin, trying to close the gap on them.
“That's easier said than done though, they're a phenomenal outfit. We didn't really perform on the day. The Championship was disappointing on my behalf.”