Monaghan home game against Kerry is an away day for Karl O'Connell
KARL O’Connell may be one of the many Monaghan players living and working in Dublin but he's still happy to host Kerry in Clones this Sunday - at least for the supporters.
“From a fans’ point of view, Kerry coming to Clones is a dream, it’s a wonderful occasion, it’s going to be class.
“But from a players’ point of view we can’t enjoy that aspect of it. Kerry have been an unbelievable team over the last few years – just because they haven’t won an All-Ireland for a few years they’re written off. But they’re a very good team and could dismantle any team whenever they want. The county itself is a traditional power - but we want to make progress."
Monaghan have already done that by recording their first senior Championship victory in normal time at Croke Park since 1930 by beating Kildare there last Sunday in phase one of Group One.
That was also against the Lilywhites, in the 1930 All-Ireland semi-final, as was their other SFC victory at headquarters, after extra time in a round 4B qualifier four years ago.
On both occasions, though, Monaghan wins in Croke Park have been followed by big beatings - in 2014 Dublin dismantled a tired team by 2-22 to 0-11.
In 1930, they lost the All-Ireland Final by 3-11 to 0-2 - to Kerry.
So O'Connell knows to be wary of the Kingdom's threat, especially after Eamonn Fitzmaurice's new-look side lost their opening game against Galway in Croke Park:
“They’ve got loads going for them – pace, power, and scores as well. They’re very strong, they have a great backbone with men like David Moran, Paul Geaney, even Sean O’Shea, [David] Clifford has started to come into it, Gavin White – great team. We have to make sure we are ready for the backlash, tune in this week.
“I’m sure they’re looking forward to it as well – games week in, week out, that’s all you want."
O'Connell modestly deflected praise for his own excellent performance against Kildare, holding Paddy Brophy scoreless and registering three points from play himself, including following up a save from his goal-bound shot to fist the rebound over the bar.
Arguably he made the difference in the two-point win, 0-15 to 1-10, but he insisted he remains delighted simply to start for his county: “I’ve always said it’s a big, important thing for me, I love playing for Monaghan, I love playing inter-county football. Championship time is what we’re known for and I’m just grateful I’m playing and that everything’s going well.
"It’s a good group of boys, any one of them could take my position. You just have to make sure you’re making the most of it because it could be taken away from you in a moment, so you have to enjoy every minute of it.
“Every man knows his job, it’s a team game, we’re working for each other – it’s not just about going up and kicking scores, you’ve got to make sure from defence to midfield that you’re putting the shift in at the back as well, looking after boys. It’s a 20-man job now, the game has changed so it’s all about power and pace. Even if you put a good 50-minute shift in, you know another man is going to be in there, so you have to make sure you’re covering everyone’s back."
The Tyholland clubman turns 30 on August 6 and will hope to celebrate his birthday by looking forward to an All-Ireland SFC semi-final, a match closer to his residence, as he shares a house in Dublin with Monaghan captain Colin Walshe and works as a recruitment consultant at Building Staff Solutions.
Beating Kildare has given Monaghan a good chance of reaching the All-Ireland SFC last four for the first time in 30 years, a place that would be confirmed if they defeat Kerry and Galway avoid defeat in Newbridge.
"We’ll not get too carried away about it,” insists O'Connell. "We knew what Kildare were going to bring, we knew it was going to be a tough game. Kildare are a very, very good team – they’re going to have a lot to say before the end of the Super Eights. They’ll probably feel like they could have won that game, that’s the way they’ll be looking at it.
“We have to rectify mistakes ourselves, although turning over the ball happens in games and adds to the excitement. We made it, we got over the line, we defended well at the end, did what we had to do. We switch onto Kerry now.
“Bits and pieces we’d be happy with. Defensive-wise we’d be very happy, not much we could do about the goal, bit of a fluke, I think it was just an attempt for a point. There was a lot of turn-overs, a lot of last-ditch defending at the end, so good and bad – but if everything was perfect with that game you’d be worried, you need to be working on a few things. We’ll be worrying about Kerry now".