Kerry drinking in last chance saloon as Monaghan aim for famous first
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final phase two: Monaghan v Kerry (tomorrow, Clones, 4pm, live on RTÉ1)
‘BEWARE the wounded beast' could well be the battle cry for Monaghan as they prepare for their second Super 8 outing against Kerry in Clones tomorrow.
The Munster champions will still be smarting, even hurting, from their defeat by Galway in Croke Park last Sunday and will travel north determined to put the record straight and get their Championship aspirations back on track. A second defeat would end the Kingdom's season, so there is sure to be a sting in the tail that Monaghan have to be prepared for.
An indication of the Kerry mindset was Éamonn Fitzmaurice's desire in the aftermath of the Galway game to move on immediately to this weekend.
“We have very little time to dwell on that defeat as we need to prepare for our trip to Clones this Sunday,” the Kerry manager said.
Fitzmaurice was bitterly disappointed but, as always, pragmatic in his assessment of his side on the day: “We didn't turn up and we looked well off the pace right from the start,” he added.
It's an unusual thing for Kerry to admit that the opposition “won all the battles”. The Munster side pride themselves on being capable of conjuring up some magic at any stage of any game, but Fitzmaurice openly admitted that David Clifford's injury-time goal merely served to “put a little bit of respectability on the scoreboard”.
It's unlikely that Kerry were getting carried away with their emphatic Munster Championship wins over Clare and Cork, so the first thing that they will take hope from is that they are still in the Championship and have lost just one game to date.
Victory in Clones tomorrow would, no doubt, reenergise their drive for a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals and it will be with that mind-set that they will be approaching this St Tiernach's Park contest.
Galway's win was their first Championship victory over Kerry in 53 years, but Monaghan have never got one over on the Kingdom at this level and tomorrow would be a special time to get that monkey off their back.
Malachy O'Rourke's side can go into the game with a fair degree of confidence, though, knowing that they have defeated Kerry three times out of their last four meetings in the National League.
“Kerry are a completely different team in the Championship than they are in the league and that's been proven year after year,” said Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke.
“But having said that, the fact that we have played them before and we've measured up against them will give the boys a wee bit of confidence
“We know they will be coming with the mentality of the wounded beast, so to speak. They have suffered a fair backlash in the media within their own county since they lost to Galway. That will have an impact on them because Kerry is a very proud footballing county
“So that's going to have a massive motivational impact on them to produce a much better performance and that's what we have to expect and plan for and produce a top-class performance ourselves.”
O'Rourke will, no doubt, have studied Kerry's structure and approach against Galway aware that it will likely vary tomorrow. Monaghan's initial approach will again be one of containment and they will seek to configure the same defensive strategy that frustrated Kildare last week.
Niall Kearns and Darren Hughes can give Monaghan a foothold in the middle third although, this time around, Fitzmaurice may give a starting nod to Anthony Maher, who replaced Jack Barry last Sunday.
Another possibility is the deployment of Kieran Donaghy in the attack. Fitzmaurice will be aware that Monaghan could struggle under the high ball and it was Donaghy who was responsible for the sucker punch goal that cost the Farney county so dearly when these sides last met in the Qualifiers in 2008.
Tom O'Sullivan, who was introduced into the defence during the Galway game, could well start this time around as could Barry John Keane, who was a late replacement for Kevin McCarthy in the attack.
Monaghan led almost from start to finish against Kildare in Croke Park last weekend and, although the margin of victory at the end was tight, O'Rourke's men managed the game well.
Young midfielder Niall Kearns impressed in the centre of the park, while Conor McManus was his usual effective self in killing the game at the end. They will require similar performances of a similar stature tomorrow if they are to stifle the Kingdom and get that famous first Championship victory over Fitzmaurice's men.
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill said after the match at Headquarters that he had thought the team that made the least mistakes would win on the day and, in his words, “that was certainly Monaghan”.
Fitzmaurice will be hoping that Kerry's outing against the Tribes men last Sunday will have brought them on, but he does readily admit that this current Kingdom team is a work in progress. They are introducing quite a number of young players, including David Clifford, Seán O'Shea and Gavin White, who have come through the underage scene at minor and U21 level and he is keenly aware that a rebuilding job like that does take time, but he will also be aware that patience is not a well-known virtue among the Kingdom's supporters.
Monaghan's ability to repeat the art of avoiding mistakes while under pressure could be key.