Scotstown ready for final cut after bouncing back from Monaghan SFC "trimming" by Ballybay

Ballybay's Thomas Kerr and Scotstown's Darren Hughes are likely to clash again in Sunday's Monaghan SFC Final at Clones. Pic: Philip Walsh
Ballybay's Thomas Kerr and Scotstown's Darren Hughes are likely to clash again in Sunday's Monaghan SFC Final at Clones. Pic: Philip Walsh

IN the managerial "game of inches", the one played out in minds, a two-point away loss can become "a trimming".

That's how Scotstown boss Colin McAree portrayed his side's opening Monaghan SFC defeat against Ballybay – but 'An Bhoth', the reigning champions have bounced back all the way to this Sunday's final against, yes, their early conquerors.

There's no denying that the Pearse Brother's have been the form team, including impressively seeing off Clontibret in the semi-final. The O'Neill's men had been the only team to deny Scotstown over the past decade, beating them in the 2019 and 2014 finals, so the holders have their sights set on a three-in-a-row.

There's no doubt, though, that McAree is entitled to talk up Sunday's opposition, pointing out: "Ballybay have been hammering every team, hammering through – they beat Clontibret really well, they really have the bit between the teeth: fellas back from America, the full squad and so on.

"We know Ballybay are another step up because they've marquee forwards: 'Jap' [Paul Finlay] is pulling the strings, the McGuinnesses [Shane and Christopher] are really on fire. We have to figure that out and get ready."

Scotstown's recent domestic dominance, and illustrious club history, has Ulster on their radar too, having narrowly lost the 2015 and 2018 finals to Crossmaglen of Armagh and Naomh Conaill of Glenties in Donegal respectively.

Yet McAree insists they have only focused on the home front, not the provincial scene, despite the desire to replicate the feats of the club heroes of the late Seventies and Eighties, who won four Ulsters:

"To be honest, we don't even think about that. We were involved in '15 and then obviously in '18, with the two chances. Yes, give us the kick of a ball and we might have won those - but that years ago.

"Truthfully, we never looked past the first Ballybay championship game, and they gave us a trimming up in Ballybay.

"We've been trying to recover ever since and we've got ourselves back to the final. Now we have to get ourselves ready. 10 finals, doesn't really matter. It's about the one in front of you; you want to win the one in front of you – so do Ballybay. We have to face that challenge."

Scotstown have had to re-build significantly this year, due to injuries to experienced players, points out McAree: "You have to remember, we're missing five of our starting 15. We're not making that an excuse, but that is our reality.

"This is a brand new team. We had five debutants in this senior championship as well. Hats off to those younger lads who have really driven the older lads on."

Kieran Hughes, troubled by a hamstring, is the only one of the missing men likely to return, although the boss acknowledges how much the versatile county man could bring to the Blues: "I think Kieran Hughes has definitely a chance to make it back there, which would be a massive boost for us, but all the rest of those lads, probably no. Some of them have season-ending injuries and have to go into surgery and so on. So what we have in the squad is there and Kieran will probably add to that."

Sunday will be 10th consecutive senior county final for Scotstown, an unprecedented feat in Monaghan, but McAree insists the expectation to succeed within the club does not put pressure on the current crop:

"I think the boys put pressure on themselves. It depends what you do with pressure. Is it a toxic pressure? Is it a pressure going to make you train every night, go to the gym when nobody else is going to the gym, do the right things at home in terms of nutrition and all the rest and getting the right recovery. That's pressure – the boys enjoy that pressure. They want to be at their best and give of the best. Some days that's good enough, and some days it's not."

This Sunday, at 3pm in Clones, Scotstown will face their toughest test, and that's saying something after Inniskeen truly troubled them in the semi-final, with An Bhoth needing three goals to see them off.

McAree was delighted with the effort, composure, and class shown in that 3-8 to 0-12 victory, commenting: "Inniskeen are full of quality, we knew that…everybody had written us off and said 'Look at Scotstown, this, that, and the other…'.

"We knew ourselves we were improving every game - we knew we needed to improve drastically from our previous couple of performances. We haven't been getting the performances we've wanted.

"But I thought the boys really acquitted themselves really, really well, particularly on the back of the previous weekend when we went to penalties. The boys came out so fresh, so determined and – look, we haven't gone away.

"Bottom line it comes down to the boys have a talent for working hard and they had to do that, and did do that. We got critical scores from key players at key times, and the boys who came off the bench made a terrific contribution to the performance."

A brilliant goal from Conor McCarthy sealed the win, the forward running onto a kick-pass from captain Emmet Caulfied up the left flank before finishing with aplomb. His manager smiled when recalling that, saying: "If I told you we'd worked at that at training would you believe me?

"When you have quality like that, Conor McCarthy, Darren Hughes, all those players, our job is to try to give them some guidance and leadership. After that, they drive the team forward, and it's up to them to make the right decisions on the field. More often than not we made the right decisions [against Inniskeen]."

Having said all that, he knows how hard Sunday will be, with the Pearse Brothers aiming to end a 10-year wait and also avenge final defeats in 2018 and 2020 – with the latter a real "trimming", by 10 points.

McAree is wary but confident in his own team too: "Ballybay is another level again. We know they're feeling they have something to settle up and look we'll just get ready and give it our best shot and see where that goes."