Monaghan and Derry? Toss a coin - and then toss it again
Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Monaghan v Derry (Tomorrow, The Athletic Grounds, 4pm)
THE sidelines could be as animated as the action on the field of play tomorrow afternoon at The Athletic Grounds in an eagerly awaited and desperately hard-to-call Ulster semi-final showdown between two old rivals.
Monaghan versus Derry; Seamus McEnaney versus Rory Gallagher.
Wrists curled for battle and with a roguish half-smile, ‘Banty’ is the kind of man who was born for days like this.
Gallagher will spit into the palms of his hands a thousand times – who’s counting? - and the entire watching public can be absolutely sure that every tiny detail, every scenario and possible outcome has been walked through up in Owenbeg for the past couple of weeks.
Who’s got the best tools? Probably more importantly, who can get the most out of the tools that they have?
Enjoying a sharp, upward trajectory under Gallagher, with the occasional touch of turbulence, can this Derry team produce high-level, back-to-back Championship displays?
Can they bring the same level of unrelenting intensity to the Cathedral City as they brought to Omagh on May Day?
Better teams than Derry have struggled to pull off that somewhat elusive feat on the Championship stage.
And what of Banty’s Monaghan?
Will they ever get over the line in Ulster under the popular Corduff man? Is 2022 their year?
They are certainly good enough – but they’ve stuttered in the really big moments of Championship football.
Of course, they were Lazarus-like in the dying embers of their make-or-break NFL win over Dublin at the end of March and they can offer that up as hard evidence to the contrary, because there was very little to be gleaned from their nonchalant swatting of an out-of-sorts Down side in Clones a fortnight ago.
Jack McCarron told us what we already knew - that he is of marquee quality and will take serious watching.
Indeed, it’ll be interesting to see who saddles up to who just as referee David Gough flings the ball up in the air at 4 o’clock tomorrow.
Who gets the ultimate compliment of Chrissy McKaigue – Derry’s silent assassin – following them: Conor McManus or McCarron?
The smarter money would say McCarron and Brendan Rogers on McManus.
The Monaghan management team won’t want either McCarron or McManus running away from the opposition’s goal too often.
Trying to curtail Roger’s lung-bursting runs might take a collective effort of Kieran and Darren Hughes out the field rather than wasting McManus’s energy – while McKaigue has the patience to sit on McCarron at all times and mind the house.
Monaghan had a heavy spread of scores from play against Down - 10 in total – but if the Farney men are to celebrate back-to-back Ulster final appearances tomorrow McCarron and McManus will probably need to make significant contributions on the scoreboard.
If they’re both blotted out – which the Derry defence are capable of achieving, especially with Conor Glass sitting on the ‘D’ – it’ll be a big ask of Monaghan to get enough from elsewhere, with this semi-final possibly being won on a placed balls count.
On paper, Derry’s forward line looks more containable – although the Tyrone backs would beg to differ given the events of Healy Park.
Shane McGuigan leads the Derry scoring charts 2-37 (0-25 frees) this year and can expect Monaghan’s Kieran Duffy to be his second skin tomorrow.
Benny Heron, always a steady presence in the Derry forward line, played his best game by a mile against Tyrone while Niall Loughlin was also a sure-footed presence.
Arguably the most glowing feature of Derry’s display was among their middle eight.
Ethan Doherty got on an incredible amount of ball against the Red Hands and is proving a brilliant line-breaker, while Conor Doherty, playing on the defensive left side, was many people’s man-of-the-match.
And pundits quickly ran out of superlatives for Gareth McKinless's awesome display.
But, for all of Rory Gallagher’s tactical nous and knowing every nook and cranny of the opposition, it was Derry’s intensity that primarily saw them skate to an 11-point victory over the defending All-Ireland champions.
Indeed, there was one moment that perhaps illustrated the point better than any other.
In the 24th minute, the advancing Conor Doherty aimed for Tyrone’s goalposts from a distance out.
The ball dropped short and into the hands of Niall Morgan. The Tyrone ‘keeper sent Frank Burns on his way.
Within seconds, the Pomeroy man was hunted down around the halfway line on the stand side – not by Derry midfielders or defenders – but by their corner-forwards Heron and Loughlin.
Tyrone simply didn’t match Derry’s desire, and lost the game.
In fact, the more you look at Derry’s annihilation of Tyrone, the worse it looks for Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher.
They’d effectively surrendered their Ulster crown before half-time, showing all the crankiness that sometimes infects defending champions.
If anything, Derry weren’t clinical enough and should have won by a fair bit more.
Tomorrow, they’ll need to be far more clinical because Monaghan can be just that. Derry are also facing into a far more obdurate opponent than the last day – and a more experienced one too.
Monaghan are a fully-fledged Division One team – Derry still have some road to travel to becoming one.
The Monaghan bench also carries some steel with it, whereas Gallagher doesn’t have that same luxury to call upon.
But if Derry get their noses in front, they have the runners and game-plan to stay there.
But do they have enough shooters? Are they clinical enough?
Toss a coin. And maybe toss it again.
Monaghan to squeeze home.
Chrissy McKaigue (Derry) v Jack McCarron (Monaghan)
CHRISSY McKaigue has evolved into Derry’s best man-marker over the last number of seasons and although he can play a bit of ball himself, he has completely sacrificed his more creative side to blot out the best opposing attacker.
On current form that’s Jack McCarron while from a Derry perspective Brendan Rogers looks a better fit to shadow Conor McManus as he’ll look to get the Clontibret man going in the opposition direction.
McKaigue did as good a job as anybody could have on Darren McCurry in Healy Park, with the Edendork man hitting two brilliant points that two markers probably wouldn’t have prevented.
McCarron is comfortable going either way which makes McKaigue’s job more difficult than, say, Patrick McBrearty who is predominantly left-footed.
A little help from the men manning the ‘D’ should help McKaigue’s task, but he’ll be unfazed by any one on one situations that come about.
McCarron is slippery than an eel. It promises to be a fascinating face-off.
ORAN Lynch is expected to be Derry’s number one ‘keeper for as long as he desires the position, but he can expect a slightly more stressful day than the Tyrone game where the Red Hands didn’t press his kick-outs too aggressively.
Lynch hit some smashing angled kick-outs but he was not under a lot of pressure. Monaghan are likely to be more aggressive and test the Magherafelt man’s mettle.
For Monaghan to be successful, they’ll need Ryan McAnespie back firing after a subdued opener against Down. Often involved in some brilliant cat-and-mouse battles, McAnespie and Ethan Doherty could be the two key men trying to influence the middle eight section.
Two brilliant line-breakers in their own right, Monaghan will also be on high alert as to the damage Gareth McKinless can inflict. Dessie Ward was handed the Caolan Mooney man-marking job and he looks like being the best man to block the Ballinderry man’s runs.
David Gough (Meath)
Where to watch it?
BBCNI Two Live 3.45pm
No goalscorer 11/2
Shane McGuigan 13/2
Jack McCarron 15/2
Conor McCarthy 33/1