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McCarron coming to McManus' rescue adds cutting edge

By Declan Bogue

When you think of attacking double-acts, a few examples from recent successful Ulster teams stand out.

Some counties are always going to be competitive, but the addition of a second 'strike-forward' can create a dynamic in the team, a confidence spreading in the dressing room from knowing you have a pair of forwards who can provide enough scores to win the game for you.

Back at the turn of the century, Steven McDonnell was doing all the heavy lifting in the inside line of the Armagh attack, having made his debut in 2000.

When Joe Kernan came in and instantly installed the teenage Ronan Clarke alongside him, the chemistry took hold immediately. McDonnell was already a brilliant fielder of the ball, but Clarke rivalled him, allowing Armagh to take the blueprint of the Crossmaglen gameplan of long, diagonal ball into strong ball-winners and achieving national success in the county game.

A year before they reached their goal, Owen Mulligan began playing alongside his former Holy Trinity, Cookstown teacher Peter Canavan. Once Mickey Harte could apply his coaching, they were able to make it happen with their first All-Ireland in 2003.

There is a sense that Monaghan are developing something similar with Jack McCarron now fully free of injury.

Hard as it is to believe, the Currin man is no youngster at 25, and has 13 stone of heft behind his kicks. The great pity for him, and us, is that he has spent his six previous seasons in the Monaghan panel injured.

This included a shoulder injury in 2012 which required surgery, a cruciate ligament rupture in 2013 and a number of hamstring problems, the legacy of players trying to make it back from the cruciate repairs.

With his performances in the National League, most especially his goal against Dublin catapulting him onto the big stage, Monaghan are no longer talked about as in serious peril if Conor McManus cannot work miracles on a daily basis.

It means that this Sunday, we could be in for an even more defensive strategy from Cavan than we have seen in previous years as they bid to keep an eye on the three Macs'; McCarron, McManus, and the excellent, silky Conor McCarthy.

Prior to this year's Championship, Monaghan captain Drew Wylie spoke of his belief in McCarron, earned from getting something of a toasting in a previous club Championship game.

"Watching Jack running up and down the sideline for a long time on his own, it took a lot of willpower and it was mentally tough for him," he said of his recovery from the various injuries that robbed him of half a dozen seasons.

"It's left him mentally strong so I'm delighted for Jack that he's got a few League games over him.

"But he knows only too well that the Championship is where it really matters, and that's where the crunch is."

For the Ulster preliminary round, Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath entrusted his tightest marker, Mickey Jones, on McCarron. While McCarron only scored a point from play - a thing of beauty it was too in the pouring rain - he altered his role to become more of a deep lying playmaker when it became apparent he wasn't going to field early ball very often.

With three goals and 29 points from five starts in the league however, he is clearly prolific.

What this quality offers a team is a whole different dynamic. Prior to Eric Cantona's arrival at Old Trafford, Manchester United were busy botching league title bids.

With Cantona's goals, and his ability to raise the performance level of those around him, success followed.

If anyone knows the rivalry of this fixture, it is McCarron. A cousin of former Monaghan player Dick Clerkin, he is from the Currin club, and Cavan's Redhills is the next town over. That means plenty.

Belfast Telegraph

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