Power NI Dr. McKenna Cup Section B
Armagh v Monaghan, Wednesday, 7.30, Morgan Athletic Grounds
Monaghan will attempt to sign off on their Dr. McKenna Cup campaign on a positive note when they travel to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Wednesday night.
After beating St. Mary’s University, Belfast in round one, Monaghan fell to a heavy defeat at home to Down on Sunday, so Eamon McEneaney and co will be keen to bounce back quickly and boost confidence ahead of the start of the National Football League. Armagh’s campaign so far mirrors that of Monaghan, as the Orchard county lost to Down before getting the better of St. Mary’s.
Seven players have made their senior inter-county debuts for Monaghan in their two games to date, the most recent being Peter O’Hanlon, who did well in his second-half cameo against Down and could be in line for a start here. Christopher McGuinness is set to make his first appearance of the season and Conor Galligan could return to the starting team, but it is too soon for Owen Lennon, Mark Downey and Gary McQuaid, who has given McEneaney a boost by returning to the panel. Monaghan will, of course, still be without their sizable contingent of college players.
Monaghan have been backboned in this McKenna Cup by Darren Hughes, Vincent Corey, Stephen Gollogly and Paul Finlay. Finlay has been in prolific form with 0-13 in two games and Monaghan need a few other forwards to chip in with more to take some of the scoring burden off the Ballybay man. Ciarán Hanratty and Dermot Malone have shown well to date and will hope to carry that form on as the battle for places for the NFL opener against Meath heats up.
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke admitted that he had over-experimented against Down and he fielded a much more experienced side last Sunday. Armagh are missing their Crossmaglen players, who are preparing for an All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final against Dr. Crokes, but they can call on seasoned campaigners like Ciarán McKeever, Andy and Brian Mallon, Billy Joe Padden, Brendan Donaghy, Charlie Vernon and Finnian Moriarty, while Aidan Forker was in flying form against St. Mary’s. A particular talking point could be Donaghmoyne native John Kingham, who transferred to Culloville last year, lining out against his native county, as he has been featuring at midfield for Armagh in recent weeks.
Both teams have an outside chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, but with Down set to wrap up top spot in Section B with a win over St. Mary’s, the more likely outcome is that the winner of this match will finish second in the group. With only the best runners-up from the three groups advancing to the semi-finals and score-difference the likely separator, a huge win for either team would be needed to send them through.
Of more concern to Monaghan will be getting back to winning ways and perhaps erasing some memories of last year’s defeat at the Athletic Grounds, which ultimately saw the Farney men relegated from Division One of the NFL.