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The 'Croker chokers' label is definitely one to lose

By Declan Bogue

It was the All-Ireland semi-final of 1930, against Kildare of all teams, when Monaghan last won a Championship game in Croke Park. It seems a crazy statistic, especially since Monaghan have become accustomed to winning at the Jones Road venue with successive league final wins over Meath and Donegal, but it is one that Darren Hughes and company are determined to smash.

Speaking at the press launch of this weekend's Round 4B qualifiers this weekend, the Scotstown dairy farmer revealed that Monaghan had earmarked a big Championship victory in Croke Park from the start of the season.

"Initially, we set out targets; promotion was one and progression was another," explained Hughes.

"When you go into the Ulster campaign we couldn't look by Tyrone because it was a massive game for us. We had never beaten them in the Championship and it was a big hurdle for us to get over.

"With the Armagh game going to a replay, we were well served heading into the final. The game was lost, we don't see it as a setback, we are into the All-Ireland series now, so we just have to progress from here."

It has taken them a while to flush defeat to Donegal out of their system, but at this remove, Hughes feels that the Ulster champions are back to the level they were a couple of seasons ago when they won the All-Ireland.

He commented: "They are a determined force this year. Last year we beat them and in our eyes we beat them fair and square.

"But they are a different team this year. I suppose they put their front foot forward from the start of the year and that was evident in their league campaign.

"And we know not to read too much into their league final out here because they had one eye on Derry in the Championship.

"We didn't get carried away with that victory and think last week was going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. But last week they brought a serious system and a serious intensity to it. Ultimately, we didn't match it on the day."

The last time Monaghan lost an Ulster final was 2010. Defeat to Tyrone left them only six days to recover before they met a determined Kildare who had built up a head of steam in the qualifiers, and mowed down a fatigued Oriel side.

Now, they have had 13 days to recover, but Hughes warns that if they do not recapture their intensity, then Monaghan's summer could be wrapped up in quick fashion.

"If you don't, you are beaten within 20 minutes. Especially against Kildare this week who are on a run of victories at the minute," he said.

"We know what's at stake. It's a season-ending game if you don't win it and we just feel, as a team, that we've put a lot of work in.

"It was difficult last week, you were still recovering mentally and physically, boys weren't fit to train and you're carrying injuries into games.

"You just have to get back into the saddle and go on but we just have to move on."

Hughes also revealed that his brother Kieran will have a "full 70 minutes" in him for the weekend, after struggling with injury through the Ulster campaign.

Belfast Telegraph

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