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Monaghan need massive final push to make it to dream Croke Park clash

By Declan Bogue

When Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke looks at what is ahead of his side this weekend, he tends to see things in stark clarity.

The Oriel men need to get a draw in Salthill. Incidentally, that is the kind of result that would suit Galway too; they would avoid Dublin in the semi-final and it would also eliminate Kerry, a side that Galway beat in the first round of the Super8s, but they wouldn't want hanging about the place either.

Playing for a draw is unheard of in Gaelic football. But you wonder if both sides were neck and neck going down the final stages of this evening's game, if a 'gentleman's agreement' could be reached?

For O'Rourke, he believes Kevin Walsh's men require the confidence boost of yet another win than any pragmatic notions of ridding the All-Ireland Championship of Kerry.

O'Rourke, who took over Monaghan the same year Fitzmaurice was handed the top job in Kerry, said: "They will be looking to win the game. I think they have lost one game all year, that was the league final against Dublin, so I think they'll want to keep winning.

"They'll be looking to top the group to avoid Dublin, so we're expecting to face a very strong team and it's going to take a massive performance if we're to qualify for the semi-final.

"It's fairly black and white and we know what it's going to take."

A win for Monaghan would take them into the All-Ireland semi-final next week against either Donegal or Tyrone.

Put simply, it's the best chance they have ever had of getting to an All-Ireland final.

One man they will have to come to terms with is Damian Comer, Galway's wrecking-ball full-forward and captain. Such is his physical power when he runs with the ball, that no shape or defensive structure can save you from him.

Aware of his threat, teams have tended to place a physical man-marker on Comer and hope they cancel each other out.

It was something Galway manager Kevin Walsh ran a flag up about when he appealed for some sort of protection from referees and umpires for his prized asset.

"Damien is a robust type of player, a strong player but a skilful player and certainly over the last few matches there were a few incidents in there," Walsh said.

"Because of the way he plays the game, the protection wouldn't be as high as he would like to allow him to express himself. He's got a bit more than strength and it would be lovely to see him be allowed express himself.

"We would feel that often times there are frees against him that you would have to wonder where they came from.

"That seems to have gone up a level over the last few games.

"Over the last while you would have to say Damien Comer has come in for a lot of serious attention without getting much out of it. There's lot of hanging-on done before the ball comes in."

Hard as it is to believe, but Group One could finish up with Kerry sneaking through.

They have Kildare, who in being beaten twice already will not contest a semi-final spot, at home in Killarney.

A win here by six or more points, and if Monaghan get nothing out of Galway, and the Kingdom meet Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.

There is one lingering sense about this game though. In recent months, a queue of former players-turned-pundits from Kerry have lined up to put the boot into Kildare's Cian O'Neill, who had been Kerry's physical trainer during their time. We're talking Darragh, Tomás and Marc Ó Sé, and Paul Galvin.

Something went wrong in his time there, with Darragh Ó Sé even suggesting the furore over Kildare wishing to play their round four qualifier against Mayo in Newbridge was suiting O'Neill's public perception.

Given how Kildare have been galvanised by the last month, even if the results have not been favourable, and the public utterances of support for O'Neill from his players, is it possible they will be going full-bore for a result?

The first-ever quarter-final group stages have given us much to chew over.

Belfast Telegraph

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