Armagh, Monaghan, Derry and Cavan bid for Ulster U20 semi-final berth

Monaghan rested key players for last week’s heavy defeat to Tyrone but should be more competitive against the Orchard county

Derry's Ruairi Forbes
Derry's Ruairi Forbes wheels away after scoring a goal in last week's win over Antrim at Owenbeg. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

EirGrid Ulster U20 Football Championship quarter-finals (Wednesday)

Armagh v Monaghan (The BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 7.30pm)

THIS game will be a test in bouncing back for both sides.

Monaghan made the decision to field an experimental line-up in their 27-point defeat to Tyrone in Coalisland last week.

Shy 10 starters from their previous game against Derry – including goalscorers Bobby McCaul and Aaron Carey – Monaghan had already accepted their fate of not being able to finish top.

There was no sign of senior star Stephen Mooney, who was second on the scoring charts for the Farney seniors in the League behind Jack McCarron with 0-18.

The Cremartin man – older brother of goalkeeper Jamie – also played against Derry, Kerry and Dublin in Division One and Armagh will have their eyes peeled for him during the warm-up tonight.

A full-strength Monaghan team is a totally different proposition when you factor in how much trouble the direct ball to McCaul caused Derry in the round-robin clash.

Monaghan also had the luxury of running their eyes over Armagh against Donegal on Saturday.

A first-half goal from Karl Joseph Molloy was the difference as Armagh fell the wrong side of the 1-6 to 0-7 scoreline.

The Armagh team in Ballyshannon featured six of the players who played in the McKenna Cup defeat to Donegal earlier in the season, when Kieran McGeeney rested the entire senior squad.

Rhys Stevens played between the posts with Brendan O’Hagan, Emmett Magee and Callum O’Neill also key players.

Pierce Blessing hit the net in the win over Cavan with James Austin their goalscorer against Fermanagh.

If Monaghan can get Mooney and McCaul up top, it has the makings of a cracker that might need more than 60 minutes.

Derry v Cavan (Owenbeg, 7pm)

FOR less than a minute Derry could smell top spot and the direct route to the semi-finals of this year’s Ulster U20 series.

Tyrone bossed the final quarter when the sides met in the group stages before Johnny McGuckian’s injury-time goal pulled them level.

It would have been harsh on Tyrone but goalkeeper Conor McAneney’s quick kick-out was the last throw of the dice on the way Gavin Potter’s fisted winner.

It sent Derry down a scenic route of a chance for second place that involved a trip to Castleblayney, where the Oak Leafers struggled to break Monaghan down.

In the end, they were left hanging on. Rory Small hacked a certain goal off the line and James Murray later got a vital hand in when a loose Derry pass sold the farm as Monaghan sniffed a third goal.

Hugh McGrath’s side welcome Cavan to Owenbeg tonight, the Breffni side having been pushed to the pin of their collar by Fermanagh last week.

Cavan’s early goal helped them to a 1-6 to 0-5 interval lead. With the game in the mix, Fermanagh nicked a goal to leave a point between the sides only for Darragh Lovett to hit the net for the Breffni men at the other end.

Fermanagh kept chasing and Cavan were left holding on for the win that ensured their progress.

Derry could hand the Lovett marking assignment to James Murray, who has already picked up Eoin McElholm and Bobby McCaul so far.

Without being spectacular and leaning on a handful of the players in their year at the grade, Derry will be fancied to book a spot in next Wednesday’s semi-finals.