By Niall Gartland
FORMER Monaghan star Tommy Freeman says they need to use their pace and quality up front if they’re to cause the downfall of reigning Ulster champions Derry this weekend.
The Oakleafers have a solid defensive structure that rarely coughs up big scores in the bear-pit of Ulster Championship football, but it was a different story in their last two visits to Croke Park against top-tier teams, Dublin and Galway.
Freeman believes Monaghan won’t have any luck if they opt for a cagey game-plan, hoping to see a repeat of the swashbuckling style of play that saw them upset the odds against Tyrone a fortnight ago – while at the same time not completely going for broke.
He said: “I definitely give Monaghan a chance, I think it’s a 50-50 game to be quite honest. I hope people don’t get too carried away with Monaghan’s win over Tyrone, but I think they have the personnel to nullify Derry’s big threats.
“Fermanagh did a decent job on Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers in the middle last day out, but they left it too open at the back and Shane McGuigan scored 2-5. I think Monaghan have the personnel to cover both bases though, they just have to get the balance right.
“I just hope Monaghan can use their pace and ask questions of the Derry defence.
“Coming from a forward’s perspective, I think you always have to ask questions of the defenders. You might get turned over once or twice, but if you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never know.
“It’s an intriguing pairing and to me it’s definitely 50-50 despite what the bookies say.
“I don’t think it’ll be as open as the Tyrone game. I was in Clones for Monaghan’s league match against Tyrone and it wasn’t an easy watch, but the game in Omagh was entertaining and that’s what people want to see. Personally I find it hard to get myself up to go to matches, the way the game is going.”
While Rory Gallagher is acknowledged as one of the leading tacticians in the game, Monaghan’s new manager Vinny Corey has shown he’s no slouch in that department, making the necessary readjustments after a poor start against Tyrone.
“As a player, he left everything on the pitch and wore his heart on his sleeve. I knew he’d be the same as manager. He probably didn’t think he’d be in as manager so quickly but he took the job on, got a backroom team in order and it seems to be going well.
“One thing about Vinny, he didn’t seem to panic when things weren’t going well in the league and that came across in his interviews. He tried a lot of new players out and that’s standing to them now, while at the same time staying up in Division One, which was crucial.
“He made a couple of important switches in Omagh, Darragh Canavan’s a wonderful player and absolutely destroyed Monaghan in the first half and Darren McCurry was causing problems as well, and they got to grips with them.
“Moving Conor McCarthy from wing-forward to wing-back worked out for us, and we started to run at them in the second half and that caused Tyrone a lot of problems.
“Karl O’Connell was instrumental the whole game but especially in the second half, he really took the fight to them.
“Stephen O’Hanlon and Conor Meyler had a serious battle as well. Meyler was on top in the first half and then O’Hanlon came into the game and got a crucial goal.
“On the whole it was a very good performance from Monaghan.”
Ryan O’Toole was the hero of the hour against Tyrone, scoring a Roy of the Rovers-type goal deep into stoppage time to snatch victory. It was his championship debut and he’s not the only young player making a name for themselves in the Farney jersey.
“Vinny has blooded in a few lads. Ryan’s coming on in leaps and bounds, he’s got physically strong. I remember seeing him come on the scene at club level.
“He was a good wee corner-back but he’s bulked himself up and got in good condition for the inter-county game.
“Karl Gallagher from Emyvale had a very solid league campaign as well, he worked very hard off the ball. He’s a good fielder, he can come out from full-forward into the middle third of the pitch.
“Vinny hasn’t been afraid to throw those boys in and it’s working well so far this season.”