Monaghan to face a Royal exam to keep season alive

Sunday, Kingspan Breffni Park, 3pm

By Niall McCoy

STATISTICALLY speaking, Monaghan are sitting joint bottom of the 2024 form chart – but they still only require a point against Meath at Kingspan Breffni on Sunday to reach the All-Ireland knock-out stages.

Vinny Corey’s side started the 2024 league campaign in sensational fashion, beating Dublin at Croke Park. Since then, they’ve recorded eight losses before their comeback draw with Louth last time out.

Only Roscommon, who were relegated alongside the Oriel men in Division One, have failed to win more than once this year, Davy Burke’s side also throwing a draw in there – against Galway in the league – with every other team in the country recording at least two victories. (New York have zero victories, but didn’t play in the league so we’re excluding them).

It’s fair to say that expectations in Monaghan are low right now, but it may take this weekend’s clash to see where the side really are.

The noted escapologists were unable to find the key to the lock in the league but the championship still offers hope, and a derby duel with Meath doesn’t require much revving.

Perhaps the side’s best 15 minutes – apart from that round one win with Dublin – came in another derby, their draw with Louth in round two of this All-Ireland round-robin stage.

For so long, the Wee County were looking good for both points at Clones but one clever finish from Mícheál Bannigan, after a misplaced pass from Louth goalkeeper Niall McDonnell, inspired a five-point comeback and they could have won it too only for Ryan O’Toole to slice wide in the final seconds.

“I’d never doubt them,” Corey proclaimed afterwards, and if they do manage to get through, then who knows where their season could lead?

A bit of stability wouldn’t go amiss in a season blighted by disruption.

Apart from the usual rough and tumble of injuries, including to star defensive midfielder Darren Hughes, Rory Beggan is now back between the sticks after his NFL dream came to an end, for now at least. Conor McManus is available for selection and although he was a second-half substitute against Louth, he’ll surely get more action here given it’s do-or-die.

Only nine players have started both group games to date and while some counties are dipping into their squad as a sign of strength, with Monaghan there still seems a sense that the management are unsure of their best 15.

Karl O’Connell, who came on and then off against Louth, may not be part of that first 15 this weekend with injury leaving his participation in doubt.

Apart from the aforementioned Bannigan, no forward has really got motoring yet and now would be a good time for the likes of Jack McCarron, McManus and Stephen O’Hanlon to catch fire.

Crucially though, Corey knows that Monaghan are a better team than Meath and when all is said and done that will probably prove apparent.

Meath looked out of their depth against both Louth and Kerry, but this is also a match that Colm O’Rourke’s side would have circled.

Their physicality stood out in the run to Tailteann Cup glory last year and perhaps Andrew Woods, worth a starting spot in many Monaghan fans’ eyes, may be drafted in to help deal with that.

That Tailteann success at Croke Park must feel a long way away for O’Rourke right now, and some knives are being sharpened.

“This thing of O’Rourke constantly making excuses about them being young and this, that and the other is bullshit,” former Meath star Cian Ward said on The Smaller Fish podcast recently, adding that he’d be shocked if the manager is still there next season.

Like their Ulster opponents, Sunday’s clash may give us a true window into where this Meath team currently are. Their motivations are similar.

Worryingly, even when they have sat back into a real defensive shape, Louth and Kerry have been able to pick holes pretty much at will. The Royal structure is in place but the foundations look weak.

Tallies of 0-9 in both of those games simply doesn’t cut it at the other end either, although Eoghan Frayne does deserve some credit for his attacking endeavours.

Meath also seem a bit unsure of how to use Matthew Costello. In their 2-18 to 0-9 hammering at the hands of Kerry last time out, he started right inside but was devoid of genuine service.

Either the supply line must improve or he’ll need to drop deeper. That’s a predicament they must work out before Sunday because he can make the team tick.

Monaghan could yet finish second in the group but it would require a huge points swing – they’re currently -10 to Louth’s +10 (Ger Brennan’s side face Kerry) – but any sort of progression would do the job for now, and then it’s about tapping into the confidence from that.

This weekend doesn’t require another great Monaghan escape act, more a loosening of the binds that could just pour some life into their season.

PREVIOUS MEETING 2020 Monaghan 2-14 Meath 1-17 NFL
IT was a little close for comfort but Monaghan survived a late Meath rally to secure their seventh straight year in the top flight, playing out a draw in a high-scoring encounter at Clones.

Monaghan led from almost start to finish with Conor McManus in imperious form in front of the posts, finishing his day’s work with 1-8 to his name.

Meath produced a spirited comeback late on with impressive sub Jordan Morris making a big impact, but Monaghan held firm to help ensure they staved off relegation for another year.

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1f); K Duffy (0-1), C Boyle, R Wylie; R McAnespie, F Kelly (0-1), K O’Connell; D Hughes, A Woods; D Ward, M Bannigan (1-0), S O’Hanlon; D Garland, C McCarthy (0-2, 1f), C McManus (1-8, 3f)
Subs: K Lavelle for Hughes, C McGuinness for Garland, S Carey for O’Hanlon, D Malone (0-1) for Bannigan, K Hughes for McCarthy

Meath: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, D Toner; C Hickey, S McEntee, D Keogan; B Menton (1-0), R Jones (0-2); J Scully (0-1), B McMahon, Ronan Ryan; C O’Sullivan (0-1), S Walsh (0-1), T O’Reilly (0-4, 3f)
Subs: J Morris (0-7, 3f, 1m) for O’Sullivan, M Costello for Scully, J Wallace (0-1) for McMahon, E Harkin for Toner, J O’Connor for Hickey, E Devine for Walsh

Last five meetings
2020 Monaghan 2-14 Meath 1-17 NFL
2014 Monaghan 0-20 Meath 0-8 NFL
2013 Monaghan 2-16 Meath 3-8 NFL
2013 Monaghan 1-18 Meath 2-3 NFL
2012 Meath 1-15 Monaghan 1-9 NFL

Season so far


McKenna Cup
Monaghan 1-15 Antrim 0-13
Fermanagh 0-12 Monaghan 2-9
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 4-14
Dublin 1-14 Monaghan 3-9
Monaghan 1-12 Kerry 3-15
Derry 3-17 Monaghan 0-13
Roscommon 1-16 Monaghan 0-7
Monaghan 0-14 Galway 3-12
Tyrone 1-19 Monaghan 2-13
Monaghan 1-14 Mayo 2-13
Ulster SFC
Monaghan 1-12 Cavan 3-12
All-Ireland SFC
Kerry 0-24 Monaghan 1-11
Monaghan 2-10 Louth 2-10


O’Byrne Cup
Meath 2-13 Louth 1-7
Meath 1-14 Longford 2-14
Meath 0-12 Fermanagh 1-9
Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10
Meath 1-11 Louth 1-9
Meath 0-12 Kildare 0-9
Cavan 0-11 Meath 0-11
Meath 1-11 Cork 1-15
Donegal 1-18 Meath 1-10
Leinster SFC
Longford 3-12 Meath 3-19
Dublin 3-19 Meath 0-12
All-Ireland SFC
Louth 3-10 Meath 0-9
Meath 0-9 Kerry 2-18


Jack McCarron 2-26 (14f, 3m, 1-0 pen)
Stephen Mooney 0-18 (8f, 2m)
Micheál Bannigan 1-15 (8f, 2m)

Eoghan Frayne 1-33 (12f, 1-0pen, 1m)
Mathew Costello 3-18 (11f, 1-0pen)
James Conlon 1-9

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