Monaghan look to break Mayo's winning run in top flight Clones battle
Allianz National Football League Division One, round four: Monaghan v Mayo (tomorrow, Clones, 2pm, deferred coverage on TG4)
MONAGHAN were widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season and, despite their good start, the Farneymen need to keep their heads down as they begin the second chapter of an enthralling top flight saga.
Seamus McEnaney's men missed out in their opener against Galway but bounced back to get the better of Tyrone and put Dublin down for the count in round three only for Dessie Farrell's men to beat the count, stage a Tyson Furyesque recovery and claim a draw after being 10 points behind.
After the game, the Monaghan players and their supporters viewed the draw as a point lost but, in the grand scheme of things, it could well be worth two if Dublin go through the gears over the remaining four games.
A point separates the top seven teams and Mayo (like Monaghan on three points) cast Meath adrift at the bottom when they produced a late flurry to win in Navan before the mid-season break. That performance showcased the combative spirit in James Horan's side which also enabled them to claim a point they scarcely deserved from their League opener against Donegal in Ballybofey.
They travel north again tomorrow looking more like their old selves. Warhorses Lee Keegan, Aidan O'Shea and Kevin McLoughlin all start as the westerners look to stretch their winning streak over the Farney county to three games.
Since Monaghan won 1-11 to 0-12 in Castlebar in 2017, Mayo have won home and away in the League: there was a one-point success in 2018 and then a three-point win last year as Horan's men secured a place in the National League final and went on to beat Kerry in the decider.
Monaghan clung on to their top flight status by the skin of their teeth last year and their form didn't improve in the Championship which explains why many observers had them earmarked for relegation this season.
Karl O'Connell says neither he nor his colleagues paid any attention to the gloomy predictions.
“People always seem to tip us to go down,” said O'Connell.
“That's just something that comes with the football and I suppose, with the year that we had last year, it would have been easy for any pundit to suggest that.
“But that's the way it goes, some teams are going to be tipped to get relegated and we take it with a pinch of salt and look forward to the games.
“Personally it doesn't bother me, it comes with the territory. That's sport.”
O'Connell could have fit-again Colin Walshe alongside him in defence tomorrow and forward Jack McCarron, who missed the draw with Dublin, is also reported to be available in a double boost for manager McEnaney.
Meanwhile, Mayo manager Horan continues to blood new players and he has made five changes to his side. Westport's Eoghan McLaughlin makes his debut at right half-back and full-forward Darren Coen gets his first start of the 2020 campaign. Padraig O'Hora and Oisin Mullin come into the full-back line while Kevin McLoughlin starts at right corner-forward.
There hasn't been more than three points between these sides in the last four League meetings and there won't be much in it tomorrow either. Mayo's form has been decent and they are getting stronger as the season progresses but Monaghan have been more consistent so far this year and, with home advantage and Walshe back in defence, they get the nod to come out on top.
Mayo: R Hennelly; P O'Hora, O Mullin, L Keegan; E McLaughlin, M Plunkett, P Durcan; S Coen, A O'Shea; F Boland, R O'Donoghue, D O'Connor; K McLoughlin, D Coen, J Carr