Ulster rivals to the four in final

All-Ireland MFC final
Derry v Monaghan
Sunday, BOX-IT, Athletic Grounds, 1pm
Live on TG4

By Shaun Casey

FOR the fourth time this season, and the second time with silverware on the line, Monaghan and Derry will lock horns in what should be a fascinating duel to complete the minor championship.

The two teams, surely buoyed by the recent exploits of their senior sides that have reached the last four in the race for Sam Maguire, will meet in the first ever all-Ulster, All-Ireland Minor final.

There may be some disappointment amongst players and supporters alike that the biggest day of their lives won’t take place in Croke Park, but the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds was the colosseum where Derry and Monaghan last collided just six weeks ago.

It took extra time then penalties to eventually separate the pair and Conall Higgins slammed home the goal that sparked wild celebrations among Oak Leaf followers as they’d not only completed a trio of wins over Monaghan but secured a fourth provincial crown in nine years.

Derry netminder Jack McCloy paved the way for Higgins’ winner, having saved spot kicks from both Matthew Carolan, the Monaghan captain, and Conor Jones, but McCloy will be watching on from the stands this weekend.

The Sleacht Néill shot stopper, who kept six clean sheets throughout the championship, was dismissed at half time of Derry’s nine-point win over Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final for an incident in the tunnel.

Higgins could be sidelined as well, as he played no part in the Dublin game through injury, although as Damian McErlain informed Gaelic Life that they are “hopeful” the Ulster final Man of the Match is fit to make an appearance.

The Dubs breached the Derry goal in the second half, only the second team to do so this year after Monaghan, but McErlain’s men raised three green flags of their own to comfortably book their place in the decider.

Comfortable victories have been the norm rather than the exception for Derry this year. Only Monaghan have given them any real cause for concern, but still, the Ulster champions remain undefeated.

No team, including Dermot Malone’s Farney men, have got their points tally into double figures, although Monaghan did come closest with nine as Derry’s mean, teak tough defensive unit have overpowered all before them.

In Cahir Spiers and skipper Fionn McEldowney, they have two of the finest attack-minded half backs in the country, who carry out their defensive duties diligently as well, while James Sargent, Sargent by name and sergeant by nature, leads the way from centerfield.

Spiers, Sargent and corner back Luke Grant all rattled the net against Dublin, but their forward line is full of scoring potential as well, with Ger Dillon, John Boyle, Eamon Young, Oisin Doherty, Higgins, if available, and Johnny McGuckian all fit to find the target.

Monaghan are fairly road tested at this stage as well and didn’t have it as easy in their last four clash with Kerry, but a goal from Tommy Mallen, a long range free that dropped into the net, paved the way for Monaghan’s first All-Ireland final appearance since 1939.

In Mallen, they have a talismanic leader that can, and will, pop up anywhere on the pitch. Not only did he hit the all-important goal the last day out, the Scotstown man also raised a green flag against Derry in the Ulster final.

Up front, Max McGinnity is the star attraction and he top scored against the Kingdom with 0-5 (all from frees), while Seán Óg McElwain chipped in with 0-4 and was another goal
scorer in their last outing against Derry.

Earning the title as the only side to have challenged Derry this season won’t be enough for Malone’s youngsters; they’ll have their eyes firmly set on collecting some silverware and ending their poor run of form against their provincial neighbours.

But to predict the outcome of this tie, one can only consider the recent history between the two which has weighed heavily in Derry’s favour given the outcomes of their league, round robin, and Ulster showpiece ties.

Finals can often take on a life of their own and Monaghan will have every chance of causing an upset, but Derry look best placed to get their hands on the Tom Markham Cup once again.

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