ALL-IRELAND PRELIMINARY QUARTER-FINAL
Monaghan v Kildare
Saturday, Glenisk O’Connor Park, 4pm (Live on GAA GO)
By Shaun Casey
SATURDAY has the potential to be one of the best days in recent years for Monaghan football, depending on how their Tullamore double header pans out.
In the curtain raiser, the Farney minors take on the kingdom of Kerry with a spot in the All-Ireland final up for grabs, against either Derry or Dublin.
Monaghan made their one and only appearance in a minor All-Ireland final 84 years ago, and lost to Roscommon, so history beckons for Dermot Malone’s youthful side.
Malone was a key member of the Monaghan team that won two Ulster Senior Championships in 2013 and 2015, alongside current senior boss Vinny Corey.
Both men played their part in the last championship meeting between Monaghan and Kildare as well, in the first round of the Super 8s back in 2018.
That evening in Croke Park didn’t really provide the same do-or-die consequences that Saturday’s battle will as everything is on in the line in O’Connor Park, for minors and seniors alike.
If we’re making comparisons to the past, then the 2014 All-Ireland qualifier, again in Croke Park, probably bears more resemblance to this weekend, although both sets of supporters will hope that isn’t reflected by the weather.
In the drowning, torrential rain on Jones’ Road, Monaghan, in their alternative blue jersey against the green of Kildare, blasted past the Lilywhites after extra time with two-points to spare at the end of the game.
Corey was again to the fore, rattling home a goal from 20 yards out, straight into the top corner with his weaker left foot to secure a first Monaghan victory in Headquarters for 84 years.
Since taking over the reins, the Clontibret man has had a fairly good first season. Monaghan lost their first four games under his watch, in McKenna Cup and league, before finally chalked up back-to-back wins over Donegal and Roscommon.
A final day victory over Mayo allowed Corey’s charges to cling onto their Division One status for another season and they backed that form up in the championship with a frantic first round win over Tyrone in Healy Park.
Their provincial charge was derailed by Derry, but Monaghan regrouped and gave a much better showing when the sides replayed in the first round of the group stages.
Karl O’Connell slotted over an equalising score to earn his side a draw while Jack McCarron was on fire in their second-round triumph over Clare, scoring 0-9 in their 1-23 to 1-18 win.
Their All-Ireland quarter-final ambitions took a tumble last weekend when Donegal upset the odds in Omagh to capture a two-point win and leave Monaghan trailing their Ulster rivals, Derry and Donegal, in third place of Group Four.
While Corey has given chances to emerging talents such as Ryan O’Toole and Micheál Bannigan, it’s still the tried and trusted foot soldiers, such as O’Connell, McCarron, Darren Hughes and Conor McManus, now playing an impact sub role, that are leading the line.
And to make the final eight, Corey knows he’ll need his older guard fresh and ready for battle as they prepare for Glenn Ryan’s Kildare. What Kildare will turn up is a completely different question entirely.
They’ve been consistently inconsistent for the best part of a decade now and even their dream team management ticket of Ryan, Johnny Doyle, Dermot Early and Anthony Rainbow, hasn’t altered that frustration.
We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly from Kildare this season. They failed to offer much in the league despite pushing Dublin all the way on the opening night but lost by one and eventually finished fifth in Division Two.
Their Leinster campaign carried a similar narrative. Kildare once again fought tooth and nail against the Dubs but just came up short, losing by two this time.
In the third meeting of the year between the two, finally outside of Croke Park, Dessie Farrell’s men displayed their superiority against a flat Kildare challenge, with nine the difference this time around.
That followed a first-round draw with Sligo and heading into last weekend, there was a huge chance they could exit the competition altogether. But in true Kildare fashion, they produced the goods when it was least expected, overcoming Roscommon by the minimum of margins.
Kevin Feely’s dramatic late mark could prove a turning point for this Kildare side that is bursting with quality in the form of Kevin Flynn, Ben McCormack, Alex Beirne, Feely and Daniel Flynn. They are all serious operators.
Depending on how much that Donegal defeat has taken out of them, and how tough the six-day turnaround is, this is a really tricky game for Monaghan, facing a team full of confidence.
Monaghan have been here before and have won three of the last five meetings against Kildare. Another day out in Croke Park is the target for both sides, and if the minors do the business as well, it could be a day to remember for the travelling Monaghan support.