Monaghan face uphill battle against Galway

By Shaun Casey

HEADING into the final quarters of their respective final round games last weekend, the chances of Galway and Monaghan meeting at this stage of the season looked extremely unlikely, verging on impossible.

Galway were comfortably controlling their own destiny against Armagh, leading by five points before crumbling and surrendering that margin. That loosening of their grip on the game let the Orchard County steal not only a draw, but also top spot in their group.

Monaghan were never aiming for top spot, but when they pulled nine points ahead of Meath following Barry McBennett’s second-half goal, they were in second place due to the hammering Kerry were dishing out to Louth.

They way things panned out, Vinny Corey’s men let Meath back into the game with seven unanswered points and ultimately that meant that Monaghan finished third in the group and were on the road for the preliminary quarter-finals.

It’s a sharp turnaround, but mentally, Monaghan are probably in a better place than their hosts, who were crestfallen after throwing away that chance to advance straight to the last eight of the All-Ireland series.

Padraic Joyce’s men, without the influential Damien Comer, were the better team against Armagh and dominated large portions of the game but didn’t do enough to see it out in the end.

One positive for the Tribesmen to take from the encounter was the fact that Robert Finnerty and team captain Sean Kelly, both major injury doubts before the game, featured and came through unscathed, despite both being replaced last on.

The pair should be fit to feature once again this weekend, although Finnerty’s left knee, his kicking leg, is fairly heavily strapped. Whether or not Comer will be on the field is a different matter.

The wrecking ball of a full-forward may not get on the scoresheet all that often, but his presence alone on the edge of the square is enough to frighten opposition defences. His absence will be a major headache lifted for Corey.

The Monaghan boss still has plenty to worry about and plan for, however as the Farney County have their own injury concerns ahead of the weekend. Skipper Kieran Duffy didn’t feature against the Royal County and neither did Dessie Ward.

Monaghan’s victory over Meath last weekend ended a barren spell of 141 days since they last tasted a win, on the opening day of the National League against Dublin. It’s been a long ride, but Monaghan, as they tend to do, are still hanging in.

McBennett, not so much a household name, was the game-winner as he finished with 1-2 to his name after entering the fray for Joel Wilson before the half-time break, while Jack McCarron nailed four frees.

Conor McManus left his mark on the game with a pointed free after being introduced late on for McCarron and the tag of super sub is one the three-time All-Star has had to play in their last two outings.

The Clontibret star also came off the bench to stroke over two frees in their 2-10 apiece tie with Louth, although he was in from the start in the humiliating first round defeat to Kerry in Killarney.

You have to feel that if Monaghan are going to get over the line this weekend, they’ll need McManus on the field for a larger contribution than the final 15 minutes, or perhaps Corey is comfortable keeping some of his tried and trusted lieutenants fresh until then.

They’re going to have to try something different as Monaghan’s recent history with the men in maroon makes for sorry reading. Of the last five meetings, Monaghan have only won once, back in 2021 when they clutched onto their Division One status with a playoff win.

Strangely, that was the last time Monaghan hit the net against Galway as well as their league clashes in 2023 and 2024 have yielded scoring tallies of 0-13 and 0-14 respectively. Galway have claimed majors in all five of the most recent encounters between the counties.

Monaghan’s last championship clash with the three-in-a-row Connacht champions was even further back, but it also ended in a Monaghan win as they toppled the Tribesmen to top their Super 8s group, in Salthill, back in 2018, but again didn’t raise any green flags in doing so.

Notching majors hasn’t been much of an issue for Corey’s charges as they’ve claimed goals in each of their four championship outings to date. On the other hand, Galway have only conceded one goal in the championship and that came last weekend against Armagh.

Something has to give on Saturday afternoon and if Monaghan can rattle off a couple of goals, then they’re in with a real chance. Monaghan have earned the tag of a team that doesn’t know when it’s beaten in the past, but this looks like a step too far this time around.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW