Lory Meagher Cup final
Monaghan v Lancashire
Saturday, Croke Park, 1pm, Live on TG4
By Shaun Casey
SITTING in the Kingspan Breffni Park changing rooms on April 22 after succumbing to their nearest rivals Cavan by three points, the dejected Monaghan players felt another year had slipped through their fingers.
They had one point to show for their opening two games in the Lory Meagher Cup, following a first-round draw with Leitrim, who came from seven down to earn a share of the spoils, and any hopes of a day out in Croke Park were no more a distant dream.
But they turned things around after that loss to Cavan and Arthur Hughes’s side went on to win their next three games to qualify for this weekend’s decider against Lancashire. Niall Garland looks back on that evening as the turning point in their season.
“There were a lot of hard truths had to be told in the squad,” said the Monaghan attacker. “We’re lucky that way, we are very honest with each other in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s not. We felt we’d let a lot go by us in the first two games.
“Fair play to Leitrim in the first game, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re seven points up and you’re about to go into injury time, you really should be finishing that game off. Cavan just showed that bit of hunger, we actually thought afterwards that we’d played decent.
“But when you look back at the video, they were winning breaks and won the physicality battle and yes, we played well in patches, but patches aren’t going to beat the top teams or win championships.
“They took their two goals; it was two mistakes by us, and good teams are going to punish you and that’s just what happened in Breffni Park that night.
“We thought we were out but thankfully we got our act together and the draw was kind to us as the teams we had to play were all ahead of us at that stage.
“Once you have a chance you don’t give up and we put in the work. We asked the hard truths of ourselves and thankfully now we’ve got the reward of Croke Park on Saturday.”
As the old saying goes, you have to lose one to win one and Monaghan have had plenty of heartaches down through the years.
“We’ve had our failures, we’ve had more than what we care to admit,” added Garland.
“But we were learning from each and every one of them and because of that, we’re now in Croke Park on Saturday and we’re ready to, please God, get over that finishing line.”
In the opening two rounds, Monaghan raised just one green flag but with the shackles thrown off and everything on the line, the Farney men reacted brilliantly on the scoreboard, hitting nine goals in the next three games.
“It’s not that we hadn’t been working on scoring goals, but I suppose it was just the pure intensity that we’re bringing to the game. When we play at a high pace and with a high intensity, we get great results.
“The balls moving quicker into the inside forwards and once they have the ball, they have the quality to score the amount of goals that we have scored over the last few games.”
Monaghan are well aware of Lancashire’s scoring threat as well. Across their five championship outings, Lancashire racked up 20 goals including three in their round four clash with Monaghan.
“It’s a whole package deal. We’ve tightened up defensively the last number of games which leads to turnovers, and they give the team a massive lift and that can put oppositions down. It’s all about the intensity of our play and focus, concentration and just keeping that ball moving.
“When we move the ball well, it’s an instinctive game and when we don’t move it so fast then it can be a bit laborious. When we play like that, that’s where the goals come from hopefully, we can get another few on Saturday.
“They’ll be well needed because in fairness to Lancashire, if you look through the scores they have been putting up, they’re very goal hungry and from playing against them, they have a lot of big, physical men.
“They have a lot of quality to go along with that too, it’s not just size, there’s plenty of boys there that are well fit to hurl and finish the job off whenever they get a chance,” he continued.
“We’re going to need to be on our toes big time to not only get our scoreboard ticking but also to keep theirs down.”