Monaghan NFL Preview: Banty investing in youth

IT seems that Monaghan fans are going to get the benefit of their success at minor level in recent seasons as Seamus McEnaney has called in a raft of young players from around the county.

Inniskeen’s Andrew Woods made a good impression in his debut season in 2020, and his club partner-in-crime Sean Jones is joining him in the Oriel squad. Another Grattan, Shane Hanratty, is in after helping Monaghan to the provincial minor honours two years ago.

Truagh Gaels youngster Gary Mohan is also there, as is his u-20 Monaghan teammate from last year Karl Gallagher (Emyvale). The side lost to Donegal on penalties.

Jason Irwin, the 2019 Monaghan minor captain, is also in – and there is a lot of excitement about the Oram man. He had been around the panel last year but will have a more prominent place this season. Mohan, likewise, has some experience of the senior ranks.

Carrickmacross’s Karl McMenamin is another youngster who was involved last year, and is sure to be pushing for action over the coming months.

The outgoings, Monaghan fans will be glad to hear, are few and far between with Ballybay forward Christopher McGuinness the only man not expected to be involved from last year.

Seventh season high 

By Niall McCoy

IT may have been a new – well, returning – manager in place in 2020 as Seamus McEnaney took over from Malachy O’Rourke, but he was able to maintain Monaghan’s long run of being involved in Division One.

That means when the National League starts next month, the Oriel county will be in the top tier for the seventh consecutive season. For comparison, Donegal were in Division Two as recently as 2019 and Tyrone in 2016.

It wasn’t easy campaign though, and their safety was not guaranteed ahead of their final game against Meath.

Banty’s’ side took three points from their first three games, and it really should have been more than that.

They drew level in the final quarter away to Galway in their opening game and with the breeze at their backs, they looked favourites for the win. Christopher McGuinness’s shot was cleared off the line late on and the Tribesmen found a way to win, 1-14 to 0-16.

Tyrone visited Castleblayney next time out and the home side were dominant throughout with Karl O’Connell’s goal securing a well-deserved 1-12 to 0-11 win.

Then came the thriller against Dublin at Croke Park. The Ulster side were in fantastic form and Conor McManus’s early goal gave them a real foothold.

They took advantage of that and, amazingly, led 1-9 to 0-3 at the break. They still led by seven with five minutes of normal time remaining, but with a gale force behind them, Dublin produced a stunning comeback. Kevin McManamon’s goal sent them on their way and David Byrne’s 80th-minute point left it 1-15 to 1-15 at full time.

Rather than feel sorry for themselves, Monaghan responded by thumping Mayo – a result that would prove massive in the post-lockdown relegation scrap. Goals in either half by Conor McCarthy and Kieran Duffy sent them on their way to a 2-16 to 0-13 win.

They were extremely poor away to Donegal in round five, a team they have a bit of a hold over usually, and that’s when Covid struck and football was put on hold for a while.

That 2-12 to 0-8 loss to Donegal did leave a bit of a sweat on, and when Kerry turned them over in Inniskeen on football’s return, the relegation race was going to down to the final day.

A Mayo win over Tyrone would have brought them into the equation, but the Red Hands won a thriller, meaning that Monaghan’s result against Meath was irrelevant.

For the record it ended a draw with McManus and Mícheál Bannigan hitting the net as they racked up 2-14 to Meath’s 1-17.

LIKE 2020, this season is not going to follow normal parameters so it’s very hard to gauge how teams will perform.

Take the fact that Monaghan have no home games as a result of breaking the training ban. How big of a punishment will that be seeing as fans are almost certainly not going to be allowed into the grounds anyway?

It still leaves a very hard fixture list on paper and there will be little wiggle room in Division One North. Seamus McEnaney’s side start with a neutral tie with Armagh in Enniskillen on May 16 followed by trips to Donegal (May 22) and Tyrone (May 29).

What’s pretty clear is that they will need to start with a win, especially as Armagh are their easiest opponents on paper. Lose that and they may need to win both remaining fixtures to avoid the relegation play-offs, and that’s a huge ask.

They were comfortable against Tyrone in the league last year and awful against Donegal – so ‘Banty’ will be looking for the same again for one and the complete opposite for the other.

Tyrone should be stronger though, and Monaghan look like a side that could beat Armagh and lose the other two – likely sending them to a relegation play-off.

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