McKenna Cup Final
When Jack McCarron answered manager Seamus McEnaney’s call to arms in the 55th minute of Tuesday night’s Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds, Monaghan were teetering on the edge of a precipice.
The Farney side had played second fiddle to their hosts in the first-half and were still seeking to find real conviction when McCarron entered the fray.
But three superb points from his educated boot were to prove crucial in allowing his side to finish on level terms with their hosts (0-15 to 0-15) before they eventually triumphed 5-4 in a tense penalty shoot-out.
It’s safe to say, then, that when Monaghan confront Donegal in today’s final at O’Neill’s Healy Park, Omagh (5.00), McCarron is likely to have a meaningful input.
Monaghan’s blend of youth and experience may have managed to squeeze over the line against the orchard county but Donegal are likely to provide a much stiffer examination given that their manager Declan Bonner is particularly fired up to land an early-season bonus.
Having accounted for Derry in the other semi-final on Tuesday night, Donegal will be bolstered by a fresh helping of confidence and the not inconsiderable bonus of the return of Jason McGee, Peadar Mogan, Caolan Ward and Conor O’Donnell.
Given that the normally influential Ryan McHugh returned against Derry and that Caolan McGonagle and Odhran McFadden-Ferry forsook their more usual defensive duties to compile 2-2 between them, Monaghan might find themselves confronted by a greater overall attacking threat.
With competition for starting places in the forthcoming Allianz League hotting up in both camps, the match is certain to carry a robust edge.
Paddy McBrearty, Ciaran Thompson and Jamie Brennan will bring their own particular silken finishing skills to the table for Donegal with McBrearty likely to make a greater impact than he did in the semi-final.
If the versatile McCarron prodded Monaghan in the direction of silverware through his accuracy and composure, then Conor McCarthy showed the kind of work-rate and finishing skills that could see him have a big say in today’s proceedings while Conor Boyle, Ryan McAnespie, Michael Bannigan and David Garland are all capable of making their presence felt.
McCarthy in particular is wielding a big influence, his willingness to cover acres of ground proving invaluable.
On this occasion, manager McEnaney is keen to see his side get into their stride earlier knowing that should Donegal be given early freedom then they could maximise it. It’s nineteen years since Monaghan last won the McKenna Cup and they will be keen to end that famine while Donegal will want to fire out an early-season warning as to their overall intentions.