Monaghan must be better for Ulster Championship clash with Tyrone: Kieran Duffy
FINAL day victory over Mayo might have handed Monaghan some much-needed momentum, but captain Kieran Duffy knows they will have to “up their game” again as a Championship clash with Tyrone looms.
The pair meet in Omagh on April 16, when the 2021 All-Ireland champions bid to bury memories of their disastrous Sam Maguire defence last year.
And, after a shaky first half of the League that left them among the Division One relegation candidates, the Red Hands pulled off back-to-back wins over All-Ireland champions Kerry, Monaghan and Armagh to secure safety – Sunday’s win over the Orchard, allied to the Farney’s win in Mayo, sending Kieran McGeeney’s men down.
And, even amid the euphoria of avoiding the drop in Castlebar, Duffy knows Monaghan face a serious task at Healy Park.
“It’s not planned every year you know,” he smiled in the wake of Monaghan’s latest successful survival mission.
“Listen it’s brilliant, staying in Division One, you need to be competitive, you want to be sitting at the top table. The results of the past couple of weeks probably didn’t reflect how we thought we were playing.
“We always have the belief that we have a chance, that we can put in a performance. We’re lucky enough the last couple of years that we got the win on the final day – and to be competing for silverware, this is where you have to be.
“In Ulster any game you play is a different level of intensity, so we have to get ourselves right up there. We know some aspects of the game today weren’t right so we need to up our game for Tyrone.”
And while, for obvious reasons, there was considerable focus on the role played by the evergreen Conor McManus - as well as fellow Farney stalwarts Darren Hughes and Karl O’Connell – in Sunday’s win, Duffy has been impressed with the development of younger players like Thomas McPhillips, Ryan O’Toole, Gary Mohan, Karl Gallagher and Sean Jones.
“Listen, Conor’s an absolute genius of a footballer - he owes nothing to Monaghan,” said the Latton man.
“Along with Darren Hughes and a few other lads they’re a credit, they always turn in the big performances and that’s what you’re looking for.
“But we believe in our youth too. There’s definitely a couple of lads on the panel making strides in the right direction, and we believe we are moving forward. Between our minor team and the U20s there will be more to come.”
The next few weeks provide an opportunity to rest some weary bodies after a hectic League schedule, with boss Vinny Corey pleased to have ended Monaghan’s away day blues as they prepare to go on the road again.
“At the start of the year we had boys travelling, some boys not committing, and then we wanted to try young players, so you’re trying to balance it the whole way through the league, keep older boys fresh and try new boys.
“We haven’t won away from home, now we have to go away to Omagh in a few weeks’ time. This was going to be a tough ask because we came down here with injuries, we were missing a few key men in our defence [Conor Boyle and Dessie Ward].
“We’ll assess those boys over the next few weeks and see how they’re getting on. It’s too early to say the Tyrone game might be a wee bit too early for them, but I wouldn’t rule them out.
“Coming down here after two deflating second half performances in-a-row, we had to get confidence up. But we know there’s work to do.”