Previews (March 24-25)
There are four county teams in action between Saturday and Sunday.
Allianz National Football League Division Two
Monaghan v Galway, Sunday, 2.30, Longford
Monaghan must go to Pearse Park in Longford on Sunday for their ‘home’ game against Galway in the NFL Division Two.
Monaghan went to the Central Appeals Committee on Wednesday in an attempt to overturn the decision to force them to play a home game at a neutral venue as punishment for their part in a scuffle in the win over Kildare, which is now all of six weeks ago, but their appeal was rejected. After taking legal advice, Monaghan then decided not to go back to the Disputes Resolution Authority, who had previously ruled in the county’s favour after they had been told to play their last home game against Louth in Drogheda, bringing an end to a drawn-out process.
With that long-running saga finally over, Monaghan must place their full focus on taking two points from what is a crucial game. It has been a trying week for the county after defeats to Westmeath last Sunday in the NFL and Derry in the Under-21 championship on Wednesday night, so a win is desperately needed to lift spirits and to move clear of the scrum of teams involved in a relegation battle. Monaghan’s league form has been very inconsistent, with wins at home to Kildare and Louth coming in the middle of losses to Meath, Derry and Westmeath. Galway have been up and down themselves and they could still be either promoted or relegated, depending on their and other results in the final two rounds. The Tribesmen got off to a flying start by winning in Derry, but they then stalled by drawing with Louth and losing to Westmeath. A narrow defeat of Meath got Galway back on track, but front-runners Tyrone proved too strong last Sunday.
After going a number of years without crossing paths at senior level, this is the third year in a row that the counties have met in the National League, with the last two being in Division One. Galway came out on top at Pearse Stadium in 2010, but a youthful Monaghan team won out last year in a game where a number of the current players made their debuts.
Tommy Freeman’s hamstring injury is again likely to keep him out, while Conor McManus is not ready to return to competitive action yet and Dessie Mone is also doubtful after limping off last Sunday, but Eamon McEneaney will hope to have Vincent Corey and Kieran Duffy available. Experienced players like Paul Finlay, Darren Hughes, Owen Lennon, Dick Clerkin and the recently-returned Gary McQuaid will be expected to backbone the Monaghan challenge, with Ciarán Hanratty and David Hughes pushing for starting places after doing well off the bench against Westmeath.
Galway have been forced to do without star forward Michael Meehan for another league campaign, but new manager Alan Mulholland, who has introduced a number of last year’s All-Ireland Under-21 winners, still has an array of gifted players to choose from. Fiontán Ó Curraoin is out injured, but his former Under-21 midfield partner Thomas Flynn comes in alongside Joe Bergin in one of five changes to the team that lost to Tyrone. Also in are Colin Forde, Johnny Duane, Michael Martin and Cormac Bane. Captain Finian Hanley and Gareth Bradshaw have been in fine form in the Galway defence, while Nicky Joyce and Paul Conroy are ones to watch up front.
The bookies are unable to separate these teams and with good reason, given the unpredictable results so far in Division Two, so to attempt to predict this one with any degree of confidence would be very difficult. One thing’s for sure, Monaghan need to produce a performance
Galway (v Monaghan): Adrian Faherty; Kieran McGrath, Finian Hanley (Capt.), Colin Forde; Gareth Bradshaw, Johnny Duane, Gary O’Donnell; Thomas Flynn, Joe Bergin; Gary Sice, Damien Burke, Nicky Joyce; Michael Martin, Paul Conroy, Cormac Bane.
Monaghan NFL scorers 2012:
Paul Finlay 1-21 (0-12f, 0-1 ‘45)
Owen Duffy 0-10 (5f)
Christopher McGuinness 2-3
James Turley 1-4
Darren Hughes 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-1f)
Tommy Freeman, Kieran Hughes 0-4 each
Ciarán Hanratty, Stephen Gollogly, Owen Lennon, Dick Clerkin 0-3
Dermot Malone, Matthew McKenna 0-2 each
David Hughes, Donal Morgan, Vincent Corey, Neil McAdam 0-1 each
Allianz National Hurling League Division 3A
Tyrone v Monaghan, Saturday, 5.00, Omagh *
Monaghan’s senior hurlers will bid to stretch their unbeaten run to four games and take a big step towards securing a place in the NHL Division 3A Final when they travel to Omagh on Saturday evening.
Wins over Donegal and Fingal and last Sunday’s draw with Louth have Monaghan top of the league, a point ahead of the north-Dublin side and Saturday’s opponents Tyrone, who beat Sligo and Donegal before losing to Fingal. This game is not also a local derby but a meeting of two of the division’s form teams which could go a long way towards deciding the promotion issue.
Mickey McHugh’s free-taking has been the main source of scores for Monaghan, but it hasn’t been a one-man show, with Gary Boyd and Trevor Hilliard going well at midfield, Peter Treanor, Jim McHugh and Paul Meegan impressing in defence and Seán Leonard and Noel Morgan enjoying their moments up front. Damien Casey, Conor Grogan, Justin and Aidan Kelly and Seán Paul Begley are sure to figure centrally for Tyrone, who will also hope to have Damian Maguire back after he missed the Fingal game.
Monaghan could be on the end of a backlash from Tyrone after the manner of the Red Hands’ defeat last Sunday, but Mattie Lennon’s men have the ability and the momentum to keep their encouraging form going.
* The game is being played as the curtain-raiser to Tyrone’s National Football League game against Meath at Healy Park.
Monaghan NHL scorers 2012:
Mickey McHugh 0-23 (20f, 2 ‘65s)
Seán Leonard, Noel Morgan 1-4 each
Gary Boyd 0-3
Paul Meegan, Trevor Hilliard, Martin Murphy 0-2 each
Éanna Mac Suibhne, Stephen Lambe, Peter Treanor 0-1 each
Ulster Minor Football League Group A
Monaghan v Down, Saturday, 2.00, Clones
Monaghan’s minor footballers play their first competitive match of 2012 in the Ulster MFL on Saturday in the second part of a double-header with the minor hurlers.
Monaghan started 2011 with an away win against Down, so they will be keen to repeat that result this time. The likes of Ryan Wylie, Conor Lavelle, Fergal McGeough, Killian Rudden and Michael Galligan return from last year’s Monaghan panel, while Conor McCarthy and Aodh Curran also have plenty to offer.
Ulster Minor Hurling League Division Two
Monaghan v Tyrone, Saturday, 12.00, Clones
Monaghan will attempt to get the first win of their Ulster MHL Division Two campaign when they host defending champions Tyrone in part one of a minor double-bill in Clones on Saturday.
Monaghan pushed Tyrone all the way in last year’s final and this year’s competition has been similarly competitive. Tyrone have already qualified this year thanks to narrow wins over Fermanagh and they are three points ahead of Monaghan, but with a bit more luck, Frank Brady’s ide would also be planning for the decider after drawing with Fermanagh and losing to Cavan by the narrowest of margins. Monaghan could still qualify for the final if they win and Fermanagh beat Cavan in Saturday’s other fixture. Another close contest is in prospect.
Jamie Guinan, Gareth Brennan, Brendan McQuaid, Niall Garland and Colm and Donal Meegan will be expected to lead the way for Monaghan, while M Mulgrew, Brian McGurk and Kieran McCrudden are just some of the key players for Tyrone.
Action continues in the Platinum Tanks Reserve Football Leagues over the weekend. In Division Two, Killeevan and Drumhowan are at home to Donaghmoyne and Carrickmacross respectively on Sunday. In Division Three, Aughnamullen host Scotstown on Saturday, while Sunday’s games see Castleblayney, Oram and Seán McDermotts take on Inniskeen, Rockcorry and Truagh respectively. There are two Division Four games down for decision on Sunday, when Killanny and Monaghan Harps have home advantage against Blackhill and Éire Óg.