Football

Mayo can kick Monaghan when they’re down in Division One swansong

An opening night win in Croke Park has proven to be Monaghan’s only one this spring, with relegation confirmed last week.

Connacht derby
Fit again: Dublin Vs Mayo Cillian O'Connor in the All Ireland final at Croke Park in 2016. Picture Colm O'Reilly (Colm O'Reilly)
Allianz Football League Division One, round seven
Monaghan v Mayo (Sunday, St Tiernach’s Park, 1.45pm)

THIS time last year, 1-7 from Conor McManus helped Monaghan turn nine years into a decade against all the odds. 12 months on, Monaghan versus Mayo hasn’t got quite the same bite.

Apparently the term ‘dead rubber’ originated from the card game rubber bridge.

Whoever engineered Monaghan’s bridge across the treacherous waters of Division One football for ten years might well have opted for rubber too.

Galway up against Monaghan in the Division One game two years ago.
The early days: A young Ryan McAnespie (left) pressurises Damien Comer in an Allianz League encounter between Monaghan and Galway.

Often its strength is overlooked. Flexibility but also durability, and above all, bouncebackability. When strained to the limit, that is when you will see its true power.

But if you’re pulled hard enough for long enough, you’ll eventually snap. Great escape after great escape, but even Houdini himself couldn’t escape the clutches of death.

Division Two has a smack of reality and a pong of morbidity. But first comes a dead rubber.

This year, the pressure was off, no more so than in Croke Park. In typical Monaghan fashion, they showed up when no one expected them to. Equally, they wilted against Derry and Roscommon in particular.

Niall Morgan's distribution was superb as Tyrone saw off Monaghan in Omagh. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Down and out: 22-year-old Gary Mohan and 36-year-old Conor McManus each played their part in Monaghan's long stay in the top flight. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Manager Vinny Corey pointed out on a few occasions that his side’s focus is on the summer. With Cavan first up in Ulster, there’ll be nothing handy there either.

Despite five defeats on the bounce, there have been some green shoots. The elusive Michael Hamill has adapted tremendously well to the demands of the intercounty game, while Joel Wilson has got crucial gametime at midfield.

In all, Monaghan have used 31 players in this campaign to date, something which is bound to stand to them.

With Corey’s men in Championship action in two weeks’ time, there may well be another few names to join that list.

Mayo visit New York on the same weekend, though they may well have an eye on their April 21 encounter with Roscommon already. If nothing else, this is the best chance for players to throw their hands up for Championship selection.

Kevin McStay says Tyrone need to reconsider how they conduct their media relations in a bid to win the hearts and minds of fans
Bigger days ahead: Kevin McStay will renew rivalry with former charges Roscommon if Mayo get past New York in two weeks' time.

The Westerners may well give a run to fresher faces such as Aaron McDonnell, Kevin Quinn and Paul Towey. Forward James Carr is believed to be a fitness concern, although Pádraig O’Hora is close to returning to the fold.

For Monaghan, Cremartin forward Stephen Mooney has linked up with the U20 panel and is unlikely to feature, meaning UCD Sigerson star Davy Garland may get another chance to transfer his college form across to the intercounty scene.

With both sides likely to experiment, it promises to be an open encounter in Clones, but a leaky Monaghan defence could be their undoing once more.