Ulster Senor Football
Derry v Monaghan
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 4pm
By Michael McMullan
WITH the first mention of Derry’s win over Tyrone, for defender Tony Scullion was beaming with pride before wheeling out a quote he remembers from Mickey Moran about one swallow not making a summer.
“It’s a very true statement,” said Scullion, who has been about the block long enough to know Monaghan bring a totally new set of challenges.
Monaghan will bring a hunger that Tyrone couldn’t muster.
“It’s a big game in every way,” Scullions says with the usual top drawer enthusiastic tone.
He may be on the other end of the phone; you can also feel him beside you.
A legend on the field he was a selector under Damian Barton when Derry dropped to Division Three in 2017 and was part of Cathal Corey’s Sligo backroom team that relegated his native county on the league’s final day 12 months later.
Four years on, he is excited by the new dawn.
“The Derry team is primed now. Rory is in his third year; the team is ready and is good enough to win an Ulster Championship,” he feels.
He believes Donegal and Monaghan have the tools to lift the Anglo Celt Cup, but the inner feeling in the Derry dressing room will of a similar ilk.
“There is no underdog here,” he said of Sunday’s showdown. “It’s whoever performs on the day and if Derry take their A game to the Athletic Grounds on Sunday; they’ll be in the Ulster final, no doubt about it.”
Scullion refers to Derry’s compact defence; their fitness levels and their ability to generate scores from outside the Shane McGuigan sphere of influence.
At the mention of Down hitting Seamus McEnaney for two goals but burrowing through their defence, Scullion agrees that it’s an area Derry’s dynamic play could exploit.
“It is, but every game takes a different course. I am sure Monaghan will have studied their game against Down,” added Scullion, who felt Down were never going to trouble Monaghan.
“I am not so sure if Monaghan were in fifth gear in that game. Even though they conceded two bad goals, they never really looked like being beat. They were able to put on a few points and pull away.”
He feels they’ll address the central channel and how Dessie Ward was left on his own. Sunday will bring Derry and Monaghan to Armagh two exact styles of play.
“It will be really enthralling to watch,” he said, buzzing with what a packed Athletic Grounds will look like. They are not going to be as open as they were against Down, if they are then Derry will exploit it.”
The buzz on Sunday will come from the people of Derry “starting to believe” and the positive talk.
But the one swallow theme returns and a realism of how tough the Ulster Championship is.
At the time of our call, Scullion is minutes away from a meeting in his role with the Ulster Council. Laptop in hand, he is scrolling through 32 years of the competition since Ulster teams began to flex their muscle at Croke Park.
Derry and Monaghan have both won two of six Ulster finals they have contested. While Donegal are in their tenth final in 12 years, they have just seven titles from 17 appearances in the decider.
Armagh have won all but one of their eight finals, with Tyrone boasting a 10 from 12 success rate.
With every stat, Scullion is beating the drum for how hard it is to life the Anglo Celt Cup.
He also feels that the over reliance on Shane McGuigan for scores has been put to bed, but the variety needs to continue.
“If you close the back door, you’ll always get scores from different angles and Derry showed that the last day. There were men kicking points and getting scores,” Scullion said.
“Shane McGuigan is a great player but we can’t be depending on him getting scores every day because you can be sure will Monaghan have their homework done.”
At the other end, Scullion – a four-time All-Star defender – insists Derry have the defenders to limit the impact of the Jack McCarron, Gary Mohan and Conor McManus triumvirate.
The names Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue are the household names, but Scullion has been impressed how Conor McCluskey has “stepped up to the plate” since nailing down a regular starting berth.
“I think we have the players to mark them, no doubt,” he said of the Monaghan attacking trio.
“What way they go about it, that’s up to the management.”