Top table seat could be at stake as old Ulster rivals clash
Allianz Football League Division One: Monaghan v Tyrone (tomorrow, 2pm, Castleblayney)
A SEAT at the top table is no longer optional for teams with serious ambitions, and that's what's at stake in Castleblayney tomorrow afternoon.
Monaghan's 2013 Ulster success, claimed from their lowly league position as Division Three winners, has long been held up as the counter-argument to the idea that you have to be in the top tier of the league to succeed in championship.
Of the 28 provincial titles won since 2013, 24 have been won by Division One teams. And of the 28 teams that have reached an All-Ireland semi-final in those seven seasons, 26 have been from the top tier of the league.
In the last two years, the top four at the end of the Division One campaign have been the last four standing in the All-Ireland series.
Evidence shows that you can drop out and maybe still win a provincial title, but that's the height of it.
Monaghan's position has been safer in recent years than they've been given credit for. Under Malachy O'Rourke, their proper brush with relegation came when they survived on score difference in 2016.
They were fortunate last year. Four points wouldn't ordinarily save you in this league but Cavan and Roscommon were both that bit shy of the grade and finished beneath them in what was a poor season for Monaghan on the whole.
Theirs is a very difficult fixture list this time, although the fact that they are at home to Meath on the final day would leave them fairly confident of survival if it's in their own hands at that point.
What they'll really fancy is this game. Taking Tyrone away out of Clones and down into the more humble surrounds of Castleblayney is not a new move, and one that served them rightly in a one-point win two years ago.
Tyrone have usually placed just the right amount of stock in the league. They've only won one Division One title and reached just one more final in Mickey Harte's 17 years in charge, yet have spent just three seasons out of the top flight.
They need two points here. Their fixture list has done them no harm, with Meath first and then Monaghan, while they host all of Kerry, Dublin and Donegal in Omagh before it's out.
But as their early-year athleticism starts to level out, the absence of the three attacking threats – McShane, Donnelly and McAliskey – will start to nip harder. They struggled to get Frank Burns involved from full-forward last week and were very reliant on the in-form Darren McCurry.
Monaghan will feel they have enough sticky men lying about to find a way of putting the clampers on the Edendork man. Even in a defence that was last week minus Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe and Fintan Kelly, they have Ryan Wylie and Kieran Duffy to do those jobs.
Tyrone have seldom had 2018 Allstar corner-back Padraig Hampsey at their disposal since he marked Conor McManus in that year's All-Ireland semi-final.
2019 Allstar full-back Ronan McNamee is likely to be handed the task this time, but there is then the question of who picks up Kieran Hughes if he's tucked in beside him, as he was in Galway.
Tyrone would like to play off Frank Burns, who was excellent in these sides' McKenna Cup meeting, the way Galway played off Shane Walsh last weekend, peppering him with raking diagonal kicks into space that was uncharacteristically unmanned.
Given the chances Monaghan missed, including a penalty and a late chance cleared off the line, they could easily have left Salthill with two points.
If Tyrone leave Castleblayney with tomorrow's spoils, the game might be up for Banty's men, who will have Peter Donnelly and John Devine with them, both of whom left the Tyrone backroom team in the very recent past.
It will not be lacking in spice, because there's arguably as much at stake tomorrow as would be in an Ulster Championship game.
Monaghan to avail of home comforts and stay afloat.