Monaghan's draw 'a step in the right direction': Bannigan

Michael Bannigan was just a youngster when he first walked into a Monaghan changing room stacked with years of experience, knowhow and Ulster medals.

THE mathematics are simple for Monaghan. Another two halves like the second half against Louth and they’ll progress in the All-Ireland series – and make their other halves happier too, believes Micheal Bannigan.

The hosts in Clones came back from five-point deficits to earn a 2-10 apiece draw against ‘the wee County’, ensuring that avoiding defeat against another set of neighbours, Meath, will guarantee progress to the All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-finals.

That ended an awful run of eight consecutive defeats, over League and Championship, which Bannigan admitted hasn’t made them good company:

“Obviously when you’re losing games it’s not nice. I’d say a lot of us haven’t been nice to live with all year, for girlfriends, wives, and families.”

Monaghan's Michael Bannigan enjoys the evolution of the modern game despite the criticisms
Monaghan's Micheal Bannigan in action against Tyrone last year

The way the group has panned out even another loss, against Louth, wouldn’t have ended Monaghan’s chances of progressing, but stopping the rot was important, says Bannigan:

“Ultimately for us it was irrelevant about the group situation. We wanted to win, wanted to get a bit of pride back in the Monaghan jersey. We were well aware for our supporters all year it hasn’t been good enough.

“We were trying to give the supporters something to shout about. We didn’t actually do that, but we didn’t get beat, so we’ll take it…

“It’s not a loss – it’s not the win that we ultimately came for, but the first half was a poor performance. We were five points down, so to come back and get a result, we’d be happy with that.

“We wouldn’t be happy with our overall performance but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a point on the board and brings momentum for the next day.”

It was Bannigan who grabbed Monaghan’s crucial second goal on the hour, latching onto a wayward pass to lob into an empty net over the advanced Louth goalkeeper Niall McDonnell.

“It was just that point of the game where we had a press, the call came to press a bit harder, a bit higher,” he recalls.

“I saw your man shape his body to kick and thought ‘I might be able to nip this here’. Luckily I got in front, got my head up, saw there was nobody there, and thought – ‘I’ll go for it’. I probably thought I had more time but I saw men running back and I was just happy it went in.”

The Aughnamullen attacker insisted that the belief was still there in the Monaghan camp, despite that series of defeats, despite going in five points down at half-time, trailing by 2-5 to 1-6:

“Absolutely, because we started the second half really well. We talked at half-time about getting the game down to a two-point game as quickly as possible – we did that maybe earlier than initially we thought we might.

“Louth came back into it, credit to them, they were very good on the day. We weren’t panicking much, we knew we were creating chances, and felt that if we kept turning the screw it would come. It was an important score in the end of it.”

Part of the reason for that inner confidence was the return of players in recent weeks, he pointed out:

“We’ve had desperate injuries, been badly hit all year. We always thought if we can get our full squad back training, and we have done over the past few weeks for the first time, that better performances would come.

“Getting relegated [from Division One] was not what we wanted, but this is a step in the right direction and hopefully we can carry this on now into the Meath game.”

Monaghan might even have won against Louth, but spurned late opportunities to do so. However, Bannigan feels that was understandable after the tough times they have endured:

“We had our chances but it’s probably because we haven’t been in that position too many times this year and confidence wasn’t there to see the game out. We’ll learn from that.”

Now he feels they can definitely go on to get the right result against Meath and take their place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland SFC series: “100 per cent. I don’t see why not. The second half there were a lot of positives to take from it. Even the first half, two bad goals, wouldn’t be happy with them.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if we can bring the second half performance into the Meath game we’ll not be far away.”