Monaghan masters of survival but Ryan Wylie expects tough Clare test
THE masters of survival move on. With a format designed to go to the last game, Monaghan will be in their element.
Even if they had lost their opener away to the Ulster Champions, even if they lose at home to Clare this weekend, you wouldn’t write them off. Heck, even from one point you wouldn’t put it past Monaghan topping the group, unless Donegal defeat Derry this weekend.
Having defied the odds to stay up in Division One of the Allianz Football League, Vinny Corey’s charges exceeded expectations again by leading Derry for much of their Group 4 opener in Celtic Park.
Then, typically, just when it seemed that the hosts had snatched victory with a run of four scores in a row to lead, up popped 35-year-old Karl O’Connell with a fine point to force a 0-14 to 0-14 draw.
Praise for their performance did not bring a smile to the face of former captain Ryan Wylie, however. Perhaps he was just fatigued, but despite that late leveller it seemed like a point dropped rather than one earned, in his eyes:
“Ah, yeah – one point, it would have been nice to win, but I suppose we just have to settle for the draw and move on to next weekend.”
The Ballybay man acknowledged that taking something away from Celtic Park was meritorious: “Derry have won two Ulsters now in a row, so you always knew there were going to come back at you.”
Yet he then sighed, before adding: “We probably had a couple of chances there towards the end to put us further ahead…But, hey, they’re a great side and came back. Thankfully we got a great score from Karl at the end.”
Monaghan now take on a county with probably an even smaller football pool to select from, Clare – but he knows Colm Collins’s men will be very well organised, with the input of a coach Wylie has worked with himself:
“I know Mark Doran, he was over us last year with the club. He’s a great coach so he’ll have them well set up for next week.
“My own sister is actually living down in Clare, so there’s a bit of intrigue for my own family side. Looking forward to it.”
His older brother Drew has retired from the inter-county scene, and with O’Connell and Conor McManus both aged 35, Monaghan have had to bring in more new blood.
“That’s what the panel is all about,” says Wylie. “Before the year started, we knew – like a lot of teams – that you’re going to need your panel, for this group of three games and, hopefully, move on further into the All-Ireland series.
“Everybody’s training hard, so everybody deserves a chance. It’s great to see younger lads come on, although it’s hard to beat a bit of experience from Karl, and we have ‘Mansy’ [Conor McManus] and Rory [Beggan] as well.
“Mansy has had a bit of an injury. It’d be great to get minutes into everybody, but it’s all about the panel. We are going to need everyone – another 70 minutes next weekend is going to take its toll on us.”
With McManus, extremely unusually, on the bench, along with Jack McCarron, Monaghan were boosted by the return to action of Ryan McAnespie, and also the performance of young Karl Gallagher.
“It’s great to have Ryan back,” acknowledge Wylie. “Karl has been round the set-up now a couple of years, when he was U20s, he had a few difficult injuries – it’s great to see him coming on.
“He’s worked hard this last couple of years. He has a great pair of hands and a great work ethic. That’s the best way when you come into a new set-up, to work hard, and you’ll get the results from it.”
Had Monaghan got the result their efforts probably deserved against Derry they’d still have work to do, and Wylie accepted that survival, progress, is all they are after now:
“You can only look week to week. I suppose if you had have won that you could have looked at topping the group, but now we have to make sure we’re in some sort of next stage.
“Whether that’s topping the group, second, or third, we just need to make sure we’re in the draw for the next round, whatever that may be.”
No matter what the outcome against Clare, though, Monaghan will be ready for the fight again against Donegal in mid-June.