When Derry toppled Tyrone from their proud position as champions of Ulster earlier this month, they not only transformed the provincial league, but added a new dimension to the Irish league.
et as ecstasy took over Oak Leaf County, team manager Rory Gallagher was making sure his players’ feet remained firmly rooted to the ground.
And the reason for Gallagher’s caution will become clear today, when a Monaghan team that torpedoed Down in the competition’s quarterfinals will be lurking in the far corner, prepared to offer a much bigger test to their opponents.
While Derry had to go back to 1998 for his last contact with the Ulster Championship trophy, Monaghan managed to be there or around over the last few years when the fate of the title was being decided.
It was under the astute guidance of Malachy O’Rourke that Oriel County received the provincial honor in 2013 and 2015, and since then it has never been far from earning a seat on the coveted throne.
Last year in particular, Monaghan’s dogged toughness in the Ulster decider ensured that Tyrone only managed to clinch the title thanks to a one-point victory in the final (0-16-0-15).
Since then, head coach Seamus McEnaney has been unwavering in his pursuit of the provincial award and today his team has the opportunity to take a step closer to the award it is eager to get its hands on.
They’ll face a side of Derry that was reborn under Gallagher, the team’s fusion of twisted veterans and young entrepreneurs currently tasting a potent cocktail.
Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Conor Glass, Emmett Bradley, Benny Heron and Gareth McKinless provide the generous edge on the side, while Conor Doherty, Padraig McGrogan, Paul Cassidy and Ethan Doherty represent the group of new kids on the block for whom the past failures of the county represent cold statistics rather than abortive toil.
With Conor Doherty having been the man of the match in the previous round win over Tyrone, Shane McGuigan and Niall Loughlin having once again imposed their majestic scoring touch and Shea Downey further emphasizing his immense potential, Coach Gallagher’s team mix could hardly have been more potential.
However, McEnaney’s ambitious Monaghan side won’t be bothered by the challenge that currently awaits them.
They survived in the top flight with a final round win over Dublin and carried that newfound optimism into the league opener against Down, in which they went down the home stretch with 11 points to spare.
Like Derry, Monaghan’s upbringing is a marriage of old and new faces.
Rory Beggan, Ryan Wylie, Dessie Ward, Darren Hughes, Conor McManus and Kieran Hughes have been around the block more often than they can remember, while Niall Kearns, Andrew Woods, Michael Bannigan and Gary Mohan continue to repay the tremendous faith that McEnaney’s manager showed in them.
And then there’s Jack McCarron.
His spectacular form at the end of the League was replicated against Down to the point that he had a hand in the man of the game award at halftime.
A professor at St Macartan’s College, Monaghan, McCarron may find the traditional, rigid man-marking skills of Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers difficult to counter on this occasion, but an inherent ability to dismiss half chances with consummate ease is likely to keep him on his feet. good place.
The Darren Hughes-Niall Kearns midfield partnership will be put under the microscope by Conor Glass and Emmett Bradley, while the creativity of Monaghan’s attacking midfield is sure to be challenged by the Oak Leaf midfield division – a battle that will have a great influence on the result.
All in all, then, a tasty dish awaits fans, as Derry and Monaghan seek a place in the decision of an Ulster Championship that has lived up to its billing so far.