By Shaun Casey
CAN Monaghan pull off an unlikely Houdini act and cling onto their Division One status for another year? You certainly couldn’t doubt them after their final day heroics of the last few years, but even if they do beat Mayo on Sunday, it may not be enough.
They must travel to Castlebar, beat Kevin McStay’s unbeaten table-toppers, and hope that their old foes Tyrone do them a favour and defeat Armagh, relegating the Orchard County to Division Two.
Calculator Sunday never sounded so simple. It’s win or bust for Vinny Corey’s men as a draw would see them on level points with Armagh (if they lose), who have the advantage of the head-to-head ruling and a superior score difference.
Corey will have to rally the troops, the old guard who have been there and done it so many times before.
The likes of Rory Beggan, Darren Hughes, Conor McManus, the tried and trusted, will have to go to the well once last time, especially with Killian Lavelle missing out through suspension.
Mayo could possibly field a weaker side as they won’t want to risk the likes of Aidan O’Shea, Matthew Ruane or Ryan O’Donoghue knowing there are much bigger games coming thick and fast down the track.
Maybe McStay will play his subs, but who are his subs again? Tommy Conroy, Kevin McLaughlin and Padraig O’Hara all came off the bench in Mayo’s one-sided victory over Donegal last weekend.
Cillian O’Connor didn’t play. Paddy Durcan is still finding his feet and needs game time. So, throw those five players into the mix and the Mayo B team has a serious look to it. Monaghan won’t have any sympathies from the Westerners to rely on.
Plus, Monaghan haven’t had much luck in Castlebar in their recent visits. Of their last four ventures to MacHale Park, the Farney men have only emerged victorious once and that was back in the 2017 league.
But the rest of the time, including last year’s qualifier clash, Mayo have ruled the roost on home soil. So, it’s backs to the wall time for Monaghan and one thing is for sure, they’ll come out swinging.
Will it be enough though? Surely their luck has to run out some time, but maybe, just maybe, things will go their way and they’ll retain their top tier status for a tenth successive year.