Barry Monaghan: I fancy Donegal but Mayo may prove me wrong
Sunday August 10 2003 was a scorcher in Castlebar, and it was a corker for Donegal as they beat a fancied Galway side to reach an All-Ireland semi-final,
And ex-county ace Barry Monaghan was at the heart of the action at centre-back on a truly talented team that incredibly won neither Ulster or All-Ireland title.
This was one of Donegal’s finest hours and they had stellar talents like Niall McCready, John Gildea, Monaghan, Shane Carr, Damian Diver, Christy Toye, Kevin Cassidy, Brian Roper, Michael Hegarty, Christy Toye and the uber mercurial Brendan Devenney before 28,000 fans.
Saturday will be no different against hosts Mayo, as Monaghan recalls canny team boss Brian McEniff using the injustice of Tir Conaill having to travel almost into Galway’s backyard as clever motivation that worked.
“My memories are that we drawn with Galway the previous Sunday at Croke Park and there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Castlebar venue,'' said Monaghan.
“Brian McEniff was manager at the time, and it was felt it was very unfair on Donegal and their supporters having to travel so far.
“I remember us stopping off in Sligo for a pre-match meal on the way down and Brian turned the tables on it and used it as a motivational tool and Galway were fairly strong as they had won the All-Ireland in 2001.
“It was a great game and a great atmosphere, and our fans outnumbered the Galway fans by two to one.
“It was a great team display.”
Fast forward to 2019 and Mayo awaits in their own cauldron.
Monaghan states: “It is a big ask to go down to Castlebar and beat Mayo.
“But Donegal are going very well while Mayo has not reached their expectations after their NFL win.
“You always expect Mayo to be tough to beat at home and it is going to be a great occasion with entertainment as well and it will add to the carnival atmosphere.”
Donegal have been hit with a number of injuries which will not have helped in their preparation but Monaghan reasoned: “Yes there are a lot of rumours and we know about the lads that were taken off against Kerry, Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee.
“But unless you are part of that inner circle it is very hard to know who is injured and who is not.
“We will not really know until the team takes the field.
“But these days recovery times are much quicker, and you would be a lot more concerned if it was just a week between games, but there has been two weeks between the Kerry and Mayo matches.”
On the positive side, the Donegal bench showed their true mettle against Kerry agreed Monaghan.
“Yes, we were minus Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee and Eoghan Ban Gallagher, an entire full backline and then two midfielders in Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee and Niall O’Donnell had a black card so you were minus six of your starting team by the 40th minute.
“These were all enforced changes, but it is a credit to the squad that they made such an impact from the bench and as one door closes for one guy it opens up for another.”
So where will the main threat come from Mayo?
“They build from the back and have great experience, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty,'' stated Monaghan.
“There is a lot of talk about them not having a Michael Murphy or a Paddy McBrearty, they have a Coen lad and they are a great collective.
“They have good players all over the field and are vastly experienced.
“More crucially they are at their most dangerous when their backs are apparently against the wall.
“It has been a see-saw ride for them so far but they have a home tie to get into an All-Ireland semi-final.
“I am sure if you had given them that proposal after the Roscommon match, they would gladly have taken it.
“But there is a kick coming from them sometime and hopefully Donegal will have the ammunition to deal with that.”
So can Donegal win it?
Monaghan answered: “I do think Donegal can do it, but I am worried that Mayo’s backs are against the wall.
“The injuries are of course a matter of concern, but we have a good panel.
“But the more regulars you have hurt, the less impact you will have off the bench.
“MacHale Park is much tighter which will suit Mayo, Donegal are playing well are very well coached and know what they are at.
“It will come down to who has the best game plan and who can execute it the best.
“I would fancy Donegal to win but I have a nagging thing about Mayo.”