GAA Football

Monaghan 'fear no one', not even wounded Kerry - Darren Hughes

Darren Hughes and Paudie McKenna helped Monaghan defeat Kerry again in the League this year - but Championship is different.
Pic Seamus Loughran

MONAGHAN know all too well the difference between League and Championship. They’ve beaten Kerry on three of the last occasions they’ve met them in the former competition, and with the added recent relevance that those four meetings have come over the last four Division One campaigns.

However, they’ve never got the better of the Kingdom in senior Championship combat, losing five times and drawing once.

Darren Hughes played in those last two defeats for the Farneymen, coming off the bench in both the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final (Kerry 1-12 Monaghan 1-11) and the following year’s round four meeting in the third round of the All-Ireland qualifiers (Kerry 1-13 Monaghan 0-13), both matches at Croke Park.

The 2007 loss was particularly galling, with the Kingdom going on to retain the All-Ireland title, and Hughes recalls ruefully: “Oh, I was there… There’s no doubt about it, we left that behind us.

“It’s a different group of players now but we feel we are competitive every day we go out and it’s just about continuing that and striving for a big performance every day.”

Sunday’s meeting will be in Clones, in phase two of the new All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals format, and a win would assure them of a first All-Ireland semi-final appearance for 30 years, as long as Galway don’t lose to Kildare in Newbridge.

“It’s nice to think about that but Kerry coming to Clones is a big proposition,” insists Hughes. “But, as I’ve said before, if we reach our level of performance, there’s no reason that we can’t give them a good rattle.”

Indeed Hughes accepts that Monaghan are well-placed after winning their opener against Kildare while the Kingdom lost to Galway in the second part of the Croke Park double-header last Sunday:

“It’s great. We have the two points on the board, the pressure is on them to show what they’re made of. We fear no one. We’ve played all these teams and we’ve beaten them in the last few years so we know on our day, if we get the performance levels right, that we’ll not be far away. It’s important to continue that.

“We know it’s a different proposition come Championship, it’s a big step up between League and Championship, but we feel we’ve been a consistent enough team in Championship over the last few years too.

“Any time we’ve been beaten it’s only been a point or two, bar the Dubs. We’ve always been competitive otherwise – but when we look back, we probably haven’t performed to our potential on the bigger days.

“It’s about striving, we’re testing ourselves every day we go out – and we still feel that there’s a bit more left in us.”

The Scotstown clubman was in fine form as Monaghan recorded their first Croke Park SFC win in normal time since 1930, which was also against Kildare, although they did win a fourth round qualifier after extra time at headquarters four years ago – also against the Lilywhites.

“I suppose that’s two on the bounce against them,” said the 31-year-old with a smile. “We dragged it out a bit, we had a few chances to kill the game in the middle of the second half but they kept coming back at us. It was just all about getting the win.”

Hughes felt that Monaghan’s easier passage through the qualifiers, playing three teams from Division Four, helped them overcome Kildare: “It was the same for both teams coming in, we both had been on a long qualifier run, so there would have been no excuses that way.

“We also changed the team about plenty during the ‘back door’ games so there weren’t too many boys who had the 70 minutes under their belt every week. The fact that we were fresh coming in, trained well and prepared well, that showed there in the last 10 minutes.”

His younger brother Kieran came on for that crucial last spell to good effect but Hughes displayed no fraternal bias when assessing the contribution off the bench: “I think all the subs made a big impact. We had Paudie McKenna coming in early with a job to do and he did it well for 50-odd minutes. Dermot and Kieran who came in near the end, Jack McCarron, they got their hands on plenty of ball and were very efficient with it. That’s what we need – it’s a 21-man game with a 26-man squad so everyone’s champing at the bit to get in, and those boys proved their worth.”

The younger Hughes had only returned from the hamstring problem that forced him off late on in the shock Ulster SFC semi-final loss to Fermanagh, but Darren said he certainly wasn’t worrying about a repeat of the sucker punch goal that knocked them out then coming from Kildare in Croke Park:

“To be honest, I was that tired it never even crossed my mind!,” he laughed. “It was just about doing the right thing on the ball. We knew we had the measure of Kildare defensively, so it was just about edging two or three points in front. Rory [Beggan] got a big free near the end, gave us that two-point cushion, and then it was about being good on the ball and making the right decisions under pressure.”

A Kerry team needing to win to stay in Championship contention will test Monaghan’s consistency and calmness – but the hosts are certainly capable of translating recent League results into a ticket to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

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