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Monaghan captain takes it on chin

By Declan Bogue

You can massage the statistics whatever way you want, but they do not make good reading for Monaghan ahead of their Ulster Championship opener against Antrim.

Since the departure of Seamus McEnaney, the returns have not been impressive.

Under Eamonn McEneaney, this Monaghan team have had 19 games in league and Championship football, and won just four of the league matches.

Their Championship last year never got off the ground as it ended with a submissive defeat to lowly Offaly after a narrow loss against Tyrone in Ulster.

Monaghan captain Darren Hughes feels that the finger-pointing of blame in McEneaney’s direction is misguided though, laying bare his feelings that the players have let themselves down.

“We as players have to hold our hands up and admit that we got things wrong during the league. We lost matches that we could have won and we have to take the blame for that,” the Scotstown clubman said. “Eamonn McEneaney has been working very hard as manager but once we are out on the pitch we have to assume responsibility for what happens ourselves.

“We have home advantage for this upcoming game against Antrim who will probably fancy their chances and it will be up to us to make sure that we make the most of this.”

The Oriel county meet Antrim in the first round at Clones on May 27, the second game of the tournament. From this remove, it appears to be a finely-poised tussle. In Liam Bradley’s fourth year in charge of the Saffrons, they could not match the league achievements of 2010, when they were promoted to division two. Three early wins set a tone of optimism, but two defeats on the road to Roscommon and Longford, followed by loss to promoted Wexford at Casement Park, sealed their fate to remain in Division Three.

The final game was against Cavan away, where Antrim showed that even though promotion eluded them, they still had developed their team and tactical play significantly, with an increased emphasis on the physical side of the game. James Loughrey hit 2-2 that day, the return of the St Brigid’s player being one of the positives through the league.

Monaghan meanwhile, suffered their second relegation in succession and will meet Antrim in league fare in 2013.

Neil McAdam echoed the sentiments of his captain when he commented: “I don’t think it is down to Eamonn so much, although he does have a role there.

Collectively, as players we need to take a bit of responsibility. At the end of the day, we are the ones who have to go out and perform.

“I don’t think anyone in Monaghan,” he continued, “especially us as a group of players, want to be remembered as a group that was relegated from Division Two. Hopefully, we can right that wrong on May 27.”

As a key figure of the University of Ulster team that made it as far as the Sigerson semi-finals, McAdam was having to serve two masters at the start of the season and points to the difference that having uninterrupted access to players makes for a county team.

He said: “During the league people are trying to unearth new footballers, trying to do different things within games of the league and with the heavy workload that’s going on during the league, especially with Sigerson football at

the start of it Championship is when everyone comes together and that’s when you actually see the true colours of the county teams.”

Looking ahead to the summer, McAdam remained optimistic that Monaghan can progress to the business end of the Championship, stating, “I think the spirit’s good, we just have to put the league campaign behind us.”

Hughes added: “There will be no room for excuses. We obviously have had another very depressing league campaign and that has not been good for morale but the Championship gives us the chance to show our skill and character.”

Monaghan played host to Armagh last Sunday at a pitch-opening challenge match in Oram. Both teams fielded experimental lineouts, but although they were beaten by a point — the winning score coming in the last play of the game for Armagh — they were pleased with the evening’s work.

Tommy Freeman and Conor McManus both started and got the majority of the game under the belts as they creep closer to full fitness. Another challenge is arranged tonight, against Louth, but there have been some concerns that the Monaghan county board have arranged a double round of domestic league fixtures to be played on Friday night and Sunday and this could be subject to an appeal.

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