Preview: Monaghan v Kildare will be steep learning curve for UUJ students
Two UUJ students will have key roles in helping Monaghan reclaim some of the considerable self-esteem they lost in capitulating to Tyrone when they line out against Kildare at Croke Park today in the fourth round of the All Ireland football qualifiers.
In last Sunday’s Ulster final Darren Hughes found himself striving to contain wave after wave of Red Hands attacks from his centre-half-back position while in the other half of the park the normally productive Conor McManus was starved of quality possession because of Tyrone’s midfield authority, particularly in what turned out to be a one-sided second-half.
Today Hughes and McManus get the chance to show Monaghan in a better light but the pair know that their team faces a massive task against Kieran McGeeney’s side which has assembled three qualifier wins on the bounce against Antrim, Leitrim and Derry.
A troublesome wrist injury prevented McManus from taking a full part in UUJ’s Higher Education fixtures last winter before he returned to the Monaghan squad.
Hughes though was UUJ’s outstanding player, proving a driving force from midfield before he too linked up with Monaghan.
Now Farney county manager Seamus McEnaney is seeking big performances from this talented duo and indeed from the rest of his side against the fired-up Lily Whites.
“We were very disappointed with the manner in which we performed against Tyrone but we are now getting the chance to play in Croke Park,” says Clontibret clubman McManus who, like Hughes, is at home in more than one position on the park.
“That’s where every player wants to be at this stage of the season. This is a big, big game for us — there is an awful lot at stake.”
It was against Armagh in the Ulster Championship quarter-final last month that Hughes was chosen to take over from injured Monaghan goalkeeper Shane Duffy at the eleventh hour in what was then viewed as a radical selection by manager Seamus McEnaney — a selection that prompted Duffy’s understudy Sean Gorman to leave the panel.
But Hughes played superbly on that occasion and retained his position as custodian for the semi-final against Fermanagh before being chosen at centre-half-back last Sunday — even though he was named as goalkeeper in the official match programme!
The absence of both captain Vinny Corey and John Paul Mone from the Monaghan defence could impact on the team’s solidity.