McDonnell set for Armagh's Casement clash with Monaghan
Ulster's hottest forward and the province’s most tenacious defender are preparing for a head-to-head contest that will form a fascinating sub-plot to Sunday’s eagerly-awaited Armagh v Monaghan Championship showdown at Casement Park.
Steven McDonnell’s solo scoring crusade may have helped to considerably shorten the odds on the Orchard County’s chances of lifting what would be their eighth Ulster title in 11 years but Dessie Mone’s man-marking skills are such that the Armagh skipper could perhaps find himself imprisoned.
Yet McDonnell, currently playing some of the best football of his career, is relishing the opportunity to further improve his scoring ratio at the expense of a Monaghan side he rates “one of the best around” when it comes to Championship warfare.
“We are very mindful that Monaghan have been playing against quality sides in Division One of the league and will have derived benefits from that,” says McDonnell.
“They will have absolutely no fears about playing in Casement Park because of the level of experience they have and we know that they will be jumping out of their skins in terms of fitness.”
His five points, four from frees, helped to cement Armagh’s win over Derry in the preliminary round but with the team having scored just 1-4 of their overall total of 1-10 from play there is concern that the attack as a unit was not sufficiently productive on that occasion.
And now Mone, a fixture in the Monaghan side for some years and a robust, combative player who has nullified the threat of several of the country’s marquee players in recent years, is determined to help shackle the ongoing influence of the wily McDonnell.
“Obviously he’s a class act but we know that we must try and eliminate the threat that he will pose,” admits McDonnell.
With Monaghan almost certain to place strong emphasis on stemming the flow of possession to McDonnell, in particular from the Armagh midfield and half-backs, their deployment of a sweeper is inevitable but Mone will have the primary task of negating the Killeavy clubman’s input.
McDonnell, now 30 but revealing all the enthusiasm of a teenage debutant, was on fire during the National League and has already given every indication of transporting his rich vein of form onto the Casement Park stage.
But he will require rather more support from his colleagues in the attack if he is to emerge as a central figure in bringing Armagh into an Ulster semi-final against either Cavan or Fermanagh.