By Niall Gartland
SO who will it be in Monaghan? Ballybay are defending champions but retaining their title won’t be easy with stiff competition from the Scotstowns of this world.
The Senior Championship gets underway and there are two group stages. Making up Group One are Truagh, Corduff, Aghnamullen, Ballybay and Latton. In Group Two, it’s Magheracloone, Inniskeen, Donaghmoyne, Clontibret and Scotstown.
Scotstown have won seven of the last ten championships, and while their league campaign was conspicuously poor (they needed a relegation play-off win to stay up), the reality is that they’re barely recognisable without their host of senior stars. The return of the Hughes brothers, Conor McCarthy and Rory Beggan will bring them on massively, and that’s without mentioning Jack McCarron, who transferred in from his native Currin at the beginning of 2023.
It’s hard to bet against them getting their mitts on the title having lost out by three points to Ballybay last year, but there’s no end of competition in a fairly competitive Monaghan Senior Championship.
Latton, who are managed by Errigal Ciaran man Cathal McAnenly, have had a really strong season and qualified for the Division One final, which is yet to be played. They have some really formidable players in their ranks, including Monaghan captain Kieran Duffy, and were unlucky to lose in a penalty shoot-out to Scotstown in last year’s championship quarter-final. They’re a tough team and could go far.
It’s another big championship campaign for an ambitious Inniskeen side. They’d been talked up as the pretenders to Scotstown’s throne in recent years and will be hopeful that this could be their year. They’ve also had a change of management with John McEntee coming in for his former Armagh and Crossmaglen teammate Oisin McConville, and they have some fine players like Andrew and Shane Woods and Ciaran McNulty.
Reigning champions Ballybay are likely to be in the mix as well. They were deserved champions last year and claimed a memorable victory over Crossmaglen in the first round of Ulster. They too have a new manager with Cavan Gaels man Seanie Johnston replacing Kilcoo’s Jerome Johnston snr. Players like the Wylie brothers are top class and it’d be a major surprise if they don’t go on another lengthy championship run.
Donaghmoyne were the standard bearers in the senior league this year, finishing top of the table in the round robin. They’ve more than exceeded expectations at their second year at this level though their hand has been weakened heading into the championship with a number of important players absent through injuries and other absentees. David Lennon is their manager and is doing a good job, they were unlucky to miss out on reaching last year’s championship semi-final and will wish to kick on in the weeks and months ahead.
Clontibret are another good shout and can call upon the evergreen Conor McManus, who has made positive sounds about the likelihood of giving it another go next year with Vinny Corey’s Monaghan. They have plenty of other experienced players as well like Dessie Mone. They fell short of the standard against Ballybay in last year’s championship so it’s hard to see them winning this year’s title.
Another side certainly worthy of mention is Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney’s Corduff. They exceeded expectations by claiming a league and championship double at intermediate ranks last year and have acquitted themselves well in Division One of the league. They’re a well-structured side with plenty of whole-hearted players and they won’t be lacking in confidence.
Emyvale based Truagh Gaels will also have decent expectations despite a poor league. They’ve had a change of management with Marty Woods replacing Pascal Canavan, and it’s understood that Maxi Curran has come on board after recently stepping down as Donegal ladies manager.
Round off the senior championship are Magheracloone, who won the Ulster Intermediate Championship a couple of years back. They’re arguably not as strong now that former Monaghan star Tommy Freeman has retired, and there’s also Aughnamullen.
The safest bet to emerge triumphant when all is done and dusted is Scotstown. They certainly have the pedigree and the players, but if they do reign supreme, it certainly won’t be handed to them as there’s around half a dozen teams in Monaghan who’ll think they can have a memorable championship campaign.
Town teams hoping to come out on top in Intermediate Championship:
THE Intermediate Championship in Monaghan is a real bearpit and teams from the county fielding in this level have traditionally fared well in the provincial arena.
Two of the larger towns in Monaghan – Carrickmacross and Castleblayney – play at Intermediate level. Carrickmacross have been a bit of a yo-yo team down the years but Castleblayney would consider themselves as one of the aristocrats of Monaghan football so they’ll be disappointed to be at this level. They’re perhaps vulnerable in the sense they have a lot of talented young players coming through the ranks but they don’t have many players in that mid-twenties bracket, and that could count against them in the championship.
Castleblayney have reached the Division Two final, which is yet to be played, where they will take on Cremartin. Cremartin were unlucky not to achieve promotion to senior level a couple of years ago, losing to Monaghan Harps in the Intermediate final of 2020. They are a tough, rural club and are a good shout for going on a championship run.
Emyvale, meanwhile, have generally done reasonably well in the league but tend to flounder in the championship. Their most well-known player is Ryan McAnespie, who arrived home early from a sabbatical in Australia to play a significant role in Monaghan’s run to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
All of the aforementioned teams – Carrickmacross, Castleblayney, Cremartin and Emyvale – will be aiming to go all the way in the championship, and another team worth watching out for is Doohamlet, who have a strong, organised team.
In terms of players to watch out for in this season’s championship, Carrickmacross can call upon pacey Monaghan star Stephen O’Hanlon, who had a particularly memorable duel with Tyrone’s Conor Meyler in the first round of the Ulster Championship. Then there’s McAnespie, who was mentioned earlier, and Cremartin in particular have a few excellent players coming through the ranks like Stephen Mooney, who really stood out at underage level at intercounty level.
Dermot Malone retired from Monaghan and Castleblayney on medical advice, and they have a rake of talented young players as well, but it’ll likely take a few years for them to firmly establish themselves at senior level. It’s hard to make a case for any of the other teams winning the championship, albeit Clones had a decent league, but it is a bit of a dogfight so you never know what could happen.
Junior level is strong in Monaghan
IT’S hard to call who will this year’s Junior Championship. In all likelihood it’ll come down to one of a few teams.
The Junior Championship has had six winners in the last six years, with most of those teams now operating at Intermediate level. 2020 winners Aughnamullen are now plying their trade at senior level, even.
2019 champions Blackhill, who reached the Ulster Junior Championship final that same year, have been in the shake up over the years to make it to senior level, so they’re a strong team.
They’ve already made it through to the Junior league final, where they will take on Tyholland, whose most well known player is Karl O’Connell, now in his mid-30s but still playing some great stuff with Monaghan. They aren’t by any means a one-man band, however, so Tyholland are another team with a fighting chance of winning this year’s Junior Championship.
Éire Óg is another decent Junior league team and they can call upon Conor Leonard, a really good midfielder who has experience of lining out in the white and blue of Monaghan. He’s really well respected in Monaghan but has had some injury problems.
Sean McDermotts won the Junior Championship a couple of years ago and are a physically strong team. Their main man is Niall Kearns but he’s in Australia at the moment.
There will be two championship groups before the knock out rounds. In Group One is Drumhowan, Blackhill, Éire Óg, Currin and Aghabog Emmets. In Group Two is Oram, Killeevan, Tyholland, Scotstown and Rockcorry.
Monaghan teams have fared better than any other county, narrowly ahead of Tyrone, in the Ulster Junior Championship, so football at this level is competitive in Monaghan and whoever comes out on top will certainly be made to work for it.