SUNDAY’S All-Ireland Minor final is obviously of seismic significance for both teams, but for Dermot Malone’s Monaghan side it’s a very historic occasion indeed.
It’s the second time in the county’s history that they’ve reached an All-Ireland Minor Championship final and the first in living memory (their only other appearance was a two-point defeat to Roscommon in 1939).
Malone recently retired from the senior inter-county game and assumed the role as Monaghan minor manager shortly thereafter.
There’s a real feel-good factor in the county at this point in time for obvious reasons and he appreciates the backing of the Farney Army who have plastered the county in white and blue.
Malone, a two-time Ulster Championship winner in the Malachy O’Rourke years, said: “I suppose Monaghan have been relatively starved off success so when we have teams going half-well the fans come out and support as best they can.
“They’ve been great – our semi-final down in Offaly was the curtain raiser to the Monaghan senior game and about 80 per cent of our supporters were in for the minor game beforehand which is testament to them.”
The all-Ulster factors adds another layer of intrigue to Sunday’s final though there were murmurs of disappointment that the game was pencilled in for the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds in Armagh (the same venue as their Ulster final meeting against the Oak Leafers last month) rather than the mecca of Croke Park.
Malone thinks the Armagh venue will be heaving on Sunday, so it mightn’t be no bad thing.
“There’s pros and cons. It definitely would have been great for all the young fellas to get a day out in Croke Park but it’s not the end of the world that it’s going to be in Armagh, as there’ll be a much better atmosphere at the game.
“I imagine it won’t be a million miles away from full capacity, Armagh is very central and there should be a large neutral following in attendances as it’s a big occasion, so let’s hope the game lives up to the hype.”
Monaghan minors have bounced back from their devastating penalty shoot-out defeat over Derry with victories over Mayo and Kerry teeing them up for another crack at Damian McErlain’s side.
Their provincial agony will be forgotten about if they land the big one for the first time in their history, but Malone knows they’re coming up against arguably the most in-form team in the country.
“I remember speaking before the Ulster final and saying Derry are favourites for the All-Ireland.
“Since Ulster they’ve blown their opponents away, they beat Galway by 12 points and were full value for their win over Dublin despite playing a full half of men with 14 men.
“They’ll take some beating.”
Asked if he expects a different sort of game than the Ulster final given they’ve sussed each other out already, he added: “It’s hard to know.
“I think Derry have been real deliberate in how they’ve played, they’re tactically astute and good at managing a game, so I doubt they’ll alter too much.”
When Dermot Malone officially signed off as a long-standing stalwart of the Monaghan senior team in late November, he probably didn’t expect that he’d be patrolling the sidelines on All-Ireland final day within such a short period of time.
That said, he knew he was onto a good thing from the early days of his tenure as Monaghan minor manager.
Malone said: “I didn’t expect to be on the sideline at all, never mind in an All-Ireland final.
“But I saw the calibre of all the teams in the Ulster league and watched a right bit of the other provincials and I knew we weren’t a million miles away.
“We won’t give ourselves too many pats on the back just yet though.”
As for the future, Malone hopes a significant block of his team will stream through to the senior team in years to come.
“Hopefully in four or five years you’ll have about 10 of these lads lining out for Vinny Corey in the senior set-up.
“That’s the long-term goal and we’re trying to set a pathway for them to ensure they progress physically as well as tactically and hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that at senior level.”