Thursday 25 May 2017

Monaghan search for defining moment

Farney's finest days have been in defeat to Kerry -- but this time they must beat Kingdom

The Monaghan fans celebrate after last year's league match against Kerry. Despite their defeat in Killarney the Farney stayed up in Division 1 after results elsewhere went their way.
The Monaghan fans celebrate after last year's league match against Kerry. Despite their defeat in Killarney the Farney stayed up in Division 1 after results elsewhere went their way.
A disappointed Ciaran Hanratty after losing an All-Ireland qualifier in Croke Park to Kerry in 2008
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It won't be lost on some of the Monaghan players that it was against Kerry that they preserved their Division 1 status last year, the same status that they are now fighting for their lives for once again.

On a quite dramatic last Sunday of divisional league action last April, the Kerry players were making their way off the pitch at Fitzgerald Stadium satisfied with a four-point victory that was more comfortable that it seemed when they noticed, with some bemusement, a group of Monaghan supporters in the stands cheering with delight.

Word quickly filtered out to the Monaghan players who had gathered in the centre of the pitch anxious to know if their efforts had been enough. They had survived.

Derry's victory by just four points and Tyrone's defeat to a Bernard Brogan-inspired Dublin by six left it extremely tight, but thanks to the head-to-head victories which Monaghan had enjoyed over both, the Farneymen prevailed.

It made the Sunday night in Killarney all the more enjoyable and allowed them to look forward to the Ulster championship with renewed vigour.

Expected

Monaghan's season unravelled quickly after an Ulster final collapse against Tyrone in Clones when so much was expected. The unravelling continued in the month that followed with Seamus McEnaney failing to secure approval from the county board to continue for a further three years having been cleared for such an extension by the county's management committee.

That rejection threatened division, with players statements being issued backing McEnaney before he left it all behind him after six years during which he brought the county back to respectability.

That level of respectability was more often than not earned outside Ulster rather than in it.

In the league they were always a competitive force in those six years, but it was the championship defeats to Kerry in successive years that probably defined this Monaghan side more.

They'll never appreciate how close they were to derailing the reigning All-Ireland champions when they met them in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final, leading a highly attritional match for long spells until Tomas O Se went up to snatch a trademark point late in the game and break the deadlock. Kerry won by a point, 1-12 to 1-11, and McEnaney famously quipped that he felt like he had had his heart ripped out without an anaesthetic.

There was further pain 12 months later when Kerry again had the cushion of just one score -- this time a Kieran Donaghy goal -- at the end of another tense qualifier in Croke Park.

Those narrow defeats to Kerry informed these Monaghan players that they could be a competitive force and that they had some entitlement to mix it with the best.

Traditionally they have rarely made life easy for Kerry. From Eamonn McEneaney's equalising point to send the All-Ireland semi-final to a replay in 1985 to the last visit by a Kerry team to Monaghan in 2006.

Kerry got out of a raucous Scotstown cauldron by a point and afterwards it was a result Jack O'Connor would describe as one of those turning points in a season that nobody else sees.

After stepping down as Kerry manager after the 2006 All-Ireland success, O'Connor would regularly visit Monaghan the following season to help McEnaney with their preparations.

Kerry are not so much in need of one of those turning points now as their hosts are in Inniskeen on Sunday.

But in terms of personnel they are extremely shortchanged. Eoin Lennon is the latest to join the list of experienced players who won't be facing the Kingdom.

A calf injury sustained against Down has sidelined him and with Darren Hughes still not recovered from the collision that forced him out late in the Dublin game and with Paul Finlay and Vinny Corey also in bother, their task is even more difficult.

Eamonn McEneaney has taken over in somewhat difficult circumstances but the brand of football they have played in four of their five games to date has been a sea change from the more defensive orientation of the previous years.

Results, however, haven't been kind. The emphatic win over Galway has been followed up by one-point defeats to Armagh and Dublin and a three-point defeat to Cork. This has nudged them towards a trapdoor from which there may be no return if they fall through it.

"I just hope we aren't left regretting those defeats. We have two points and are fighting relegation, but the position we could have found ourselves in this week was looking for a win over Kerry to maintain a push for the league final. That's how close it has been," McEneaney reflected.

McEneaney has introduced fresh faces to the Monaghan team and has still managed to remain competitive, a balancing act few thought would have been possible.

"We've lost so many players through injury, retirement and emigration that it has been a case of having to introduce these players and for the most part they have thrived in difficult circumstances," he said.

Ironically, defeats against Kerry have provided Monaghan with some of their more memorable days in recent years, Croke Park twice and Killarney last year.

That same diet of defeat could leave them feeling pretty empty this Sunday however.

Irish Independent

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