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Monaghan aim to add craft to their impressive workrate

By Declan Bogue

It was one of those statistics dredged up on the night that catches everyone by surprise.

Monaghan had just beaten Kildare in the lashing rain and wind, after extra-time, in 2014.

Thirteen days earlier they had been beaten by Donegal in the Ulster final. The defeat cut deep, but Malachy O'Rourke had set the squad another target at the start of the year - win their first Championship game in Croke Park.

And the odd thing is that the win over Kildare in 2014 has been the only one since 1930, which, if you are nerdily inclined, will find interesting that it also came against Kildare.

Now, Monaghan have a shot at redeeming themselves after what was the shock of the summer when they were turned over by Down in the Ulster semi-final. And, in the process, push an ugly statistic even further down the road of irrelevance.

In recovery, Monaghan should not have been tested, being drawn as they were against two teams that played their league action in Division Four this year in Wexford and Carlow.

With Seamus McEnaney in charge of Wexford they were always going to try to twist a few tails, but the treatment that Conor McManus got that night down in Wexford Park was a scandal. Still, Monaghan racked up 3-23 and got through.

For a side that collapsed last year when Longford put it up to them, it was a show of character.

"There is always a hangover from losing in the Championship," O'Rourke said afterwards.

"We lost to Down, had to return to the training ground, put the heads down and prepare for the qualifiers.

"It was not easy but the boys really got down to the task facing them so we are delighted to get the victory.

"It was a case of approaching the qualifiers in a positive frame of mind. We did not want to go out like last year when we lost to Longford in the opening qualifier round. We always knew Wexford would be up for the game, but we also knew that once we settled, kept patient, we would break them down."

Carlow weren't so easily negotiated.

They sat in deep and frustrated Monaghan, drawing level with them, and as the final quarter of an hour beckoned, the favourites were in deep trouble. Still, their greater experience of playing for high stakes and superior decision-making told in the end.

This weekend is a watershed moment for the side.

The central question is just how much quality they have when the scrapping and tearing is over in Ulster.

To win games in Croke Park, there needs to be an element of artistry. It can't all be heavy plundering, big hearts and bodies on the line.

They long for Paul Finlay in his prime. They miss the careful delivery of ball to the inside line provided by Finlay and, on their day, Dick Clerkin and Eoin Lennon.

Jack McCarron has spent the summer nursing himself through injury. He appears better suited to a role in the half-forward line, as does the spritely Conor McCarthy. Barry McGinn, another half-forward versed in the finer arts, suffered a ruptured cruciate in late February.

For now, O'Rourke prefers to favour for the first two-thirds of the game the defensive strength of Gavin Doogan, Dermot Malone and Owen Duffy, who is an excellent line breaker.

Early in the Ulster semi-final, Kieran Hughes drilled a ball to McManus who turned and kicked without taking a single play but altogether Monaghan kicked only half a dozen balls in and struggled, while Down had the time of their lives by isolating Connaire Harrison at the other end on Drew Wylie.

Against Carlow, they didn't play a single ball in, opting to run it every time. McManus and McCarron foraged deeper and deeper, their frustration growing.

Quite simply, they need to bring a new flavour to Croke Park.

Belfast Telegraph

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