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After losing the crown, Monaghan plan to bite back

Farney can relieve Ulster anguish

By Declan Bogue

The six-day turnaround. For so long the bane of the losing Ulster finalists, the notion of having to face another game within a week of losing a provincial final has melted away with the restructuring of the backdoor system this season.

Only Wexford have had to play a game without the qualifiers safety net this season, their Leinster semi-final thumping handed out by Dublin followed by an agonising one-point defeat to Laois in round two.

Since the introduction of the backdoor, the Ulster final has been shifted away from its place around the second weekend of the month to the third weekend, which has meant a dose of self-harming by the province in terms of having northern representation in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

It wasn't until Down beat Tipperary in a nervy round four tie in Mullingar in 2012 until the six-day turnaround was finally mastered by a beaten Ulster finalist. Donegal repeated the trick a year later when they got over their Ulster final loss to Monaghan with victory over Laois.

Apart from that though, Fermanagh in 2008 and Down in 2003 were saddled with a quick turnaround by virtue of their finals against Armagh and Tyrone respectively going to replays.

Since 2009, Ulster teams had to dust themselves off after losing out on the Anglo-Celt Cup only to find a team cutting their way through the qualifiers and brimming with the confidence that winning regularly brings. Antrim almost shocked Kerry in 2009, but Kildare went straight through Monaghan and Derry in successive years of 2010 and 2011.

What is interesting that in the All-Ireland-winning year of 2005, Tyrone had two weeks between their first Ulster final draw, and their subsequent defeat to Armagh.

They also benefited from a fortnight off before beating Monaghan and getting their sights recalibrated.

The difference between Tyrone in 2005, and say Monaghan in 2010, was the sheer climb it took to win Ulster in those years.

For Armagh and Tyrone, Sam Maguire was the aim and not only did the team become blasé about the Anglo-Celt Cup, but supporters also became indifferent to those successes.

What either of them would do for a taste of provincial success now, is of course a nice question to ponder.

For Monaghan in 2010, it was Ulster or bust, according to then-captain, Damien Freeman, who feels that his side hadn't the heart to face Kildare six days later.

"I think the six-day turnaround was very important," the Magheracloone man begins.

"You put so much into an Ulster final and when you lose it, it takes so much out of you. No matter how much you try to disguise it, within a week it's still raw, it's still there.

"And going in against Kildare, who were going well at the time, it was difficult. We never performed that day at all, we never came out of the traps.

"It was hard to put your finger on it, we tried to do all the right things in training, and did do all the right things in training, but mentally and everything else, it didn't happen for us."

Kildare were seasoned backdoor men. They had to be, as their often poor record in Leinster forced them to be.

In some ways, their relationship with the qualifiers defined their overall record under Kieran McGeeney; in six seasons, they only reached the Leinster final once. Granted, they ran into Dublin in three of those years, but the Metropolitans were hardly the force then as they are now.

Yet come the business end of the Championship, Kildare always made it back to Croke Park, with the exception of last year. In doing so, they caught Ulster finalists raw and unprepared and shell-shocked in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

On the Monday morning after the 2010 Ulster final, the Monaghan team gathered in the Hillgrove Hotel for a pool session. They had one day for the post-mortem and five to get ready for the next phase.

"We tried to pack everything in that week and we thought in training after the Monday it was out of our system, but clearly, it wasn't," recalls Freeman.

"We went through drills and normal training on the Tuesday and through tactics on the Thursday, had a loosening-out session and clearing up injuries. We had to get them sorted out and get the head right more than anything else."

In years to come and with some prudent drawing-up of a fixture list that allows for the caveat of replays, the six-day turnaround could become one of those mad, unrealistic expectations on county players that we recall with bemusement.

Freeman certainly backs up that theory and talked about the cruelty of the system.

"The only thing about reaching a provincial final and then having to go out the following week, is it felt that you were being penalised more than anything else," he explained.

"I think you need that week off in between to talk about losing a big game, a final, and then get yourself ready and picked up the following weekend, getting yourself geared up for another big game."

Earlier this week we wondered just how Monaghan had dealt with losing their Ulster crown. The stories coming from the camp suggest that Monaghan went into the final against Donegal with more injuries and illness than anyone wishes to go public on, so that hints at a maturity.

So too, was the clever goal-setting at the start of the year, as revealed by Darren Hughes at the press call in Croke Park on Monday when he said: "Initially, we set out targets. Promotion was one, and progression was another."

They achieved promotion. Winning a Championship game in Croke Park – their first in 84 years should it happen – and giving Dublin a big game would represent progression for this present group.

Freeman would back up the theory.

"They will like the draw. They will not be too unhappy with the fact they have Kildare and there will be a big pile at stake when they could meet Dublin in the next match."

One thing at a time though, for the time being.

Belfast Telegraph

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