FROM ODHRÁN CRUMLEY
SATURDAY JUNE 24TH 2017
ULSTER SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI FINAL
DOWN VS MONAGHAN
ATHLETIC GROUNDS, ARMAGH, 7PM
REFEREE: DAVID COLDRICK (MEATH)
Nineteen points separated the sides in their last Ulster Championship meeting in the quarter final stage of last year’s competition. The Mourne Men were almost beaten before they entered the field of play completely devoid of confidence having failed to win a single game to that point.
The circumstances couldn’t have a starker contrast this time around though, this is a Down side full of confidence after surviving the drop from Division Two with a last gasp point against Cork. The first round win over rivals Armagh has reignited the belief of Eamonn Burns’ men.
Monaghan will enter the game as considerable favourites and deservedly so as favourites to lift the Anglo Celt before a ball was kicked. The Farney men have the benefit of the extra championship game. They overcame Fermanagh easily in the final quarter after taking forty minutes to find their grove.
Cavan at Breffni Park provided a sterner test they were pushed right to the wire in a tough, tense and defensive counter. Conor McManus’ second half goal the decisive score, as Cavan struck the post with the very last kick of the game.
While McManus has shone, the star of the league Jack McCarron has failed to light up the Championship, with only one championship score to his name. McCarron rattled up 3-30 throughout the league, but ‘Mansy’ has taken over in the white heat of championship football.
It’ll be a tougher assignment for the Monaghan captain today as he faces up against one of the finest man-markers in the game in Down captain Darren O’Hagan. The latter kept Jamie Clarke scoreless from play last time out and if his side are to harbour any chances of reaching next month’s decider he will need to limit the influence of McManus.
Malachy O’Rourke’s men have scored an average of seventeen points to this stage compared to Down’s fourteen. Down have conceded an average of seventeen points which is a rather bleak comparison to Monaghan’s concession of fourteen. Crucially the Mourne men have an average concession of a goal a game, Monaghan’ average implies that they score a goal a game. Down will need to keep the ball out of their net or grab a goal of their own to get over the line.
The Mourne Men will look to repeat the heroics of the 2012 provincial Semi Final where they overcame a huge half time deficit to beat Monaghan and reach the decider. The venue for that triumph? Armagh. The venue for today’s game? Armagh. Although I do not expect the upset, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me, the men in red and black are a different animal once they get a win under their belt. A county never shy of confidence and arrogance when the goings good.
The carrot dangling in front of both sides is a place in July 16th’s Ulster Final, the mite of Tyrone await them in the final. Monaghan should be too strong for Burns’ charges.