It’s a huge weekend for Monaghan football – read our previews.
FOOTBALL SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
By Niall McCoy
Monaghan Senior Football
Ballybay v Scotstown
(Sunday, St Tiernach’s Park, 3pm)
THE Scotstown and Ballybay rivalry has been beautifully entertaining in recent seasons, but it has been painfully one-sided too.
It’s fair to say that over the last five years these clubs have been considered the ‘big two’ in the Oriel county, and meetings between them have been full-blooded affairs.
Still, Ballybay have seen their championship ambitions ended by Scotstown four years on the trot now with two of those defeats coming in semi-final replays.
There have been near misses for the Pearse Brothers, none more so than the 2017 semi-final at Clones when they conceded 2-2 in additional time with An Bhoth winning the replay. There is simply one reason why they haven’t added to their haul since last lifting the Mick Duffy Cup in 2012 – and that’s Scotstown.
Colin Malone’s side have shown plenty of grit this year to suggest that they have the ability to end their unwanted streak against Sunday’s opponents though.
They grabbed a draw with holders Clontibret in an incredibly physically group opener while they edged Magheracloone and Inniskeen in tight encounters. They also demonstrated their attacking flair as they put 4-20 past Donaghmoyne. Christopher McGuinness, Colm Lennon, Darragh Drury and Shane McGuinness each raised green flags.
They needed four more majors in a semi-final thriller as they renewed rivalries with Oisin McConville’s Inniskeen.
They won out 4-19 to 1-25 after extra-time on a day when they fell away from their best after half-time. At the interval they led 2-6 to 0-5 with Patrick O’Neill grabbing both goals.
From there Inniskeen, and Andrew Woods in particular, started to dominate and it took two classy goals from the McGuinness brothers to get them back to the final.
First Christopher turned beautifully around his man after receiving a pass from Paul Finlay before Shane finished low to the net following a beautiful flick up off the ground. That goal threat could be crucial at St Tiernach’s Park.
It has been pretty much plain sailing for a Scotstown side who should be motivated to make amends for last year’s final defeat to Clontibret.
They came through Group Two with four wins, and although Truagh, Latton and Castleblayney all stayed within four points, they were never really tested.
Players like Matthew Maguire, Micheal Meehan and Gavin McPhillips all made their championship debuts in the early stages of the campaign while Conor McCarthy has been in superb form.
He grabbed two of their three goals in the group stages – Francis Maguire with the other – and he hit seven points, including five from play, in the semi-final win over Carrick.
There has been a sense too that Scotstown have another couple of gears in reserve, should they need them. They haven’t yet, but Sunday’s encounter is sure to be their toughest assignment so far. They have been Ballybay’s Kryptonite in recent seasons, and they can be once more.
FOOTBALL INTERMEDIATE CHAMPIONSHIP
By Niall McCoy
Monaghan Intermediate Football Championship final
Cremartin v Monaghan Harps
(Saturday, St Tiernach’s Park, 5pm)
THE Atkinson brothers, Èanna and Liam, will play a key role for Cremartin in Saturday’s Intermediate final against Monaghan Harps, but sister Lorna has helped the side along the way too.
Lorna is married to former Dublin footballer Kevin Nolan, who has two All-Ireland titles, six Leinster crowns and an Allstar to his name. For the past two seasons he has been lining out for the Shamrocks having relocated to the area.
Nolan has already drawn praise from the Cremartin faithful following their dramatic semi-final win over rivals Doohamlet.
With 62 minutes on the clock, they trailed by six points but Shane Burke and Paddy McNally (2) scored points before Nolan hit the net to force extra-time, and an eventual 2-19 to 2-18 win.
“Kevin has been a massive help,” vice-captain Èanna Atkinson said of his brother-in-law.
“He has been playing very well this year obviously, but even having a man of that experience around the camp is such a boost.
“He’s settled into the area very well and he is a big part of the club already.
“We haven’t got him to support Monaghan just yet though. Monaghan against any other county, that’s probably as good as we’ll get!”
For Atkinson, there is little question that in previous seasons the side wouldn’t have been able to scramble back from the brink against Doohamlet. He puts the extra fighting ability down to the influence of new manager Matthew Lambe and coach Michael Trainer.
“The manner we did it in, six points down and time up, shows the never-say-die attitude that exists this year.
“Our manager and trainer have come in, Matthew Lambe and Michael Trainer, and they have brought in great ideas.
“They have brought a real positive attitude to things and that has carried across into the team.”
Cremartin have made waves at Junior level in recent times and reached Ulster finals in 2004 and ’11, so this is a nice step up.
Their last final appearance at this grade came in 1989 when Magheracloone needed two games to get the better of them in Ballybay.
“The club were last in an Intermediate final in 1989, 31 years ago,” Atkinson continued.
“It was only two seasons ago we were down in Junior so there has been a lot of progress.
“The lockdown has probably helped us in a weird way. A few boys who weren’t available the last couple of years have come back. The shorter year probably suited some of the older lads.”
The defender is also well aware that they have a lot to do if Barry Kerr is to ascend the steps at Clones to lift the title.
“Monaghan Harps were in a Senior Championship final in 2015 and a lot of those boys are still knocking about.
“We’re going in as underdogs and we’re happy enough to do that. They’re a very strong team.”
FOOTBALL JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
By Niall McCoy
Monaghan Junior Football Championship final
Sean McDermott’s v Aughnamullen
(Saturday, Scotstown, 2.30pm)
GROUP One winners Sean McDermott’s meet Group Two table-toppers Aughnamullen in the Junior decider on Saturday – so this long looked like a possible final pairing.
They met in the championship last year, although at Intermediate level, with Aughnamullen recording a 3-18 to 2-9 win.
The two sides had very different knock-out campaigns to reach the final.
The Sarsfields started with a 0-18 to 1-3 quarter-final win over Aghabog and followed it up with a 6-15 to 1-10 trouncing of Oram. Aughnamullen actually missed an early penalty in the latter of those, but a hat-trick from Darren Geoghegan and goals from Sean Sheridan, Tiernan Duffy and Kieran Duffy secured a 20-point victory.
The Sean’s, meanwhile, won their knock-out games by four points and one point respectively.
An Adam O’Driscoll rocket was key in a 1-17 to 1-13 quarter-final win over Drumhowan before they edged out a strong Clones outfit in the semi-final.
Marty McGuirk got their goal early on in the 1-13 to 0-15 win while O’Driscoll and James Treanor were also prominent in the scoring stakes. Paddy Kieran, however, was the hero as his two additional time points secured the win.