JACK MADDEN: Moving day in Monaghan

THE Monaghan Senior Football Championship hasn’t been hugely kind to Donaghmoyne Fontenoys. Last year, their campaign began with a daunting trip to 2019 champions Clontibret.

Former Sigerson player of the year Davy Garland was deployed as the sole forward, as Donaghmoyne set up a rigid 14-man defence, breaking at rapid pace to feed Garland.

Conor McManus was given similar freedom at the other end, the Clontibret defence marshalled by one Vinny Corey. What ever became of him?

When Clontibret eventually edged themselves ahead in what was an arm wrestle, they looked assured, set to eke out a victory with the kind of know-how only an established team senior outfit has.

Donaghmoyne had other ideas. Liam McDonald, back from injury and sprung from the bench. Goal. Smash and grab. Two points in the bag.

Come the final round of fixtures, all that could prevent the Fontenoys progression to the final six was a draw between Clontibret and Scotstown. This time it was Scotstown looking home and hosed. But no matter how much football has changed and continues to change, three points remains a dangerous lead.

So it proved as Mick O’Dowd’s charges raised a green flag that turned the world inside the county boundaries upside down. Donaghmoyne were doomed to the relegation play offs, where ultimately they proved too strong, unsurprisingly.

This year, the draw has been no kinder. There is no easy draw, but when Scotstown come to town and you’re off the back of two defeats from two, it isn’t ideal to say the least.

The favourites, beaten by Oisín McConville’s former charges Inniskeen in the first round, appear to have got their house in order. Jack McCarron showed the potential of his transfer from junior outfit Currin, with Magheracloone on the wrong end of a 4-19 to 0-11 beating the last day out.

The experimentation regarding potential All-Star Conor McCarthy has continued on the club scene. He was used in a man-marking capacity in the surprise defeat away to Inniskeen, but he has since returned to the forward line.

Ryan O’Toole has shown great confidence after a breakthrough year on the inter-county scene, while in Rory Beggan Scotstown have a wildcard no other club in the county has, barring perhaps his former understudy Conor Forde of IFC outfit Emyvale.

Donaghmoyne will be targeting this match as a must win, off the back of a rather disappointing defeat to Inniskeen and a narrow loss to Clontibret in their opener. With two group games to go, a defeat would almost certainly consign Fontenoys to the relegation play-offs, even if they should beat Magheracloone on D-Day.

Magheracloone have struggled to reach the pitch of their first year back at senior level, with their league culminating in a relegation play-off against Aughnamullen, where they secured a narrow victory.

A dismal league and slow start to the championship saw the end of former Castleblayney Faughs manager Johnny Murtagh, as his Aughnamullen side looked to be struggling. Their poor form ended abruptly however, with a nine-point win over Ballybay grabbing the attention of the county and beyond.

That victory was backed up with a win over 2021 finalists Truagh on the last day out, with the most northern club in the county in the same position as Donaghmoyne having lost two from two.

It gets no easier this weekend, with Truagh hosting Kieran Duffy’s Latton. Latton, who sit atop of Group One with a game in hand, also qualified for this year’s league final, where they will meet fellow form team Inniskeen after the SFC concludes.

The other Group One meeting sees the clash of Corduff and Aughnamullen, who have been strengthened with the recent addition of Monaghan selector Gabriel Bannigan. Corduff, up from intermediate, would have been perceived as one of the more preferable teams. Yet, an opening day draw against champions Ballybay proved their credentials, and the win over Truagh proved they can more than compete at this level.

Séamus McEnaney has transformed their fortunes, coming in off the back of Monaghan’s qualifier defeat to Mayo in Castlebar back in 2021.

Ironically, one of the main men he took in to coach the Gaels is Ballybay man Colin ‘Buggy’ Malone.

If Saturday is moving day in golf circles, then matchweek three of four in the Monaghan SFC is sure to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Scotstown remain the bookies’ favourites by quite a comfortable margin, although their group position is somewhat out of their hands.

That is if Inniskeen can get over Clontibret in the tie of the round this weekend. Both sides have 100 per cent records, although Inniskeen have played an extra match, and O’Neills are still to play Scotstown in the final round.

There is the realistic possibility of a three-way tie should Clontibret win at the weekend and lose to Scotstown the following week. And that appears to suit the men who have won seven of the last ten championships, as they sit on a score difference of +18 thanks to the convincing victory over Magheracloone.

The Ballybay-Corduff draw has complicated the mathematics on the other side, although Latton will be confident of taking top spot under Errigal Ciaran man Cathal McAnenly.

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