Allianz National Football League Division One
Cork v Monaghan, Sunday, 2.30, Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Monaghan face their toughest test of this year’s NFL to date when they travel to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to play the All-Ireland champions Cork on Sunday.
Both teams won their first games of the campaign and they both lost out in round two. Monaghan started off with a fine win over Galway, but a late goal saw Armagh sneak home last Sunday, while Cork got the better of old rivals Kerry before losing to an in-form Dublin team.
Having gone close on several occasions in recent years, Cork finally ended their 20-year wait for an All-Ireland SFC title last September when they beat Down in the final. Despite being without six of their Sam Maguire Cup-winning team against Dublin, Conor Counihan can call on top-class players in every line of the pitch, including full-back Michael Shields, half-back Paudie Kissane, midfielders Aidan Walsh and Alan O’Connor, half-forwards Pearse O’Neill and Paddy Kelly and full-forwards Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor, who are both deadly free-takers.
Monaghan have their own quality free-takers in Paul Finlay and Conor McManus, who have led the way in the scoring stakes for the Farney men so far this year. Eamon McEneaney is still without a number of injured players, but he has been boosted by the returns of Tommy Freeman and Owen Lennon, who came on against Armagh, and Darren Hughes, who was superb at full-back. Monaghan will also be looking for big performances from Dick Clerkin, Dessie Mone and Colin Walshe, as well as the younger players who have been holding their own so far.
This is the fifth league game between the teams in four years, with Cork holding the edge (three wins to one) so far. The Rebel county beat Monaghan in Páirc Uí Rinn in 2008 and although Monaghan got their own back a year later, Cork beat them in the ’09 Division Two Final. The sides played out a classic in the first round of the league last year, when Cork squeezed home by a point in a game which Cork selector Ger O’Sullivan later described as a big morale-booster for his team in the wake of their All-Ireland success.
A similar game would be one to look forward to, but Monaghan will of course be determined to force a different result and win a league game in Cork for the first time.