Monaghan need to make home advantage count as Clare arrive at Clones

Karl O'Connell scored a late equaliser as Monaghan took a point from their opener in Derry
Karl O'Connell scored a late equaliser as Monaghan took a point from their opener in Derry

All-Ireland Senior Football Championsip, Group Four, round two: Monaghan v Clare (Sunday, Clones, 2pm)

A CHANGE in dynamic for Monaghan who have made a habit of proving their doubters wrong as underdogs but now must perform as favourites.

It’s unlikely that the bookies’ odds will factor into their thinking. Monaghan teams go out for the battle and they will get that against a Clare side whose season could well be over if they lose.

The Farneymen – who have named Conor McManus on the subs’ bench again - began this group with a draw against Ulster champions Derry at Celtic Park. The Oak Leafers had beaten them comfortably in the Ulster Championship but Monaghan obviously went back to the training ground and worked hard after the loss.

They worked smart too and arrived in Derry City with a well-practiced gameplan in which their over-lapping movement off the ball created space for shooters. They looked like winning against an off-colour Derry side but needed Karl O’Connell’s late equaliser to take home a valuable point.

They’d probably have settled for that before throw-in and can capitalise on that hard work if they beat Clare on home soil.

St Tiernach’s Park has been a fortress for the Farneymen for a decade and has underpinned their long stay in Division One. Armagh and Tyrone did win at Clones in the League this year but the Farneymen beat Donegal and Roscommon and seeing off Clare on their native turf will guarantee their place in the knockout phase of this competition.

As for the visitors, Colm Collins’s Clare have been competitive in all their matches this season and they rallied quickly after the disappointment of relegation to Division Three.

The Bannermen forced their way to the Munster final thanks to wins over Cork and then Limerick. Five Kerry goals in the decider gave the scoreboard a one-sided look (it finished 5-14 to 0-15) but Clare showed pace and spirt and, despite being cut open by David Clifford, they never allowed their heads to drop.  

Reaching that final may have taken a toll on them. In their group opener against Donegal in Ennis they were in control for half-an-hour but the Tir Chonaill men showed glimpses of their old form with a good second half performance that banished some of their 2023 blues.  

Clare won’t lack information on the Monaghan team. Assistant-manager Mark Doran knows the Farney line-up inside-out having co-managed Ballybay to the Monaghan senior championship title last year.

Longstone native Doran – also the Slaughtneil manager - was enticed west by Collins to train the Clare footballers. If his adopted county is to win at Clones they have to make every ball a battle from the throw-in.

“Monaghan are a massive challenge in Clones,” said Doran.

“Down through the years, they’ve been very hard to beat at home but it’s an opportunity for us to get back into it again and we have to go and put our best foot forward and hopefully it will be enough.

“Vinny Corey has done a brilliant job with Monaghan – he kept them up and the way they bounced back after losing to Derry in the Ulster final was top class.

“They’re a very well coached team and they probably did enough to beat Derry last Saturday night. So we know what’s ahead of us, it’s backs-to-the-wall stuff and we know we have to get something out of this game or the season is over. That’s the harsh reality of it.”

If Donegal beat Derry in Ballybofey, Clare will have a final roll of the dice against the Oak Leafers in round three but the Bannermen don’t have a great record against Ulster opposition and it’s very difficult to see them getting anything out of that game if they lose to Monaghan.

“It’s going to take one of our best performances of the year – if not the best – to get anything out of Sunday,” added Doran.

“We’re under no illusions that we need to produce that if we’re going to survive but that’s the name of the game. This is where we want to play – if you ask any of the Clare footballers they’ll tell you that. They’re playing for Sam Maguire and players learn for more about themselves against better opposition so this is where you want to be. We’re glad we’re in this position and we have to go and fight for every ball.”

Clare won't go quietly but it'll take something special to shift Monaghan at Clones and the Farneymen get the nod to win with five points to spare.

Monaghan: R Beggan; R O’Toole, K Duffy, R Wylie; K O’Connell, C Boyle, C McCarthy; K Gallagher, K Lavelle; S O’Hanlon, M Bannigan, R McAnespie; J McCarron, G Mohan, S Carey

Clare: TBC