Monaghan young guns out to make more history
Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30
It's Tuesday evening and Monaghan U-21 manager Ciaran McBride is making his way home from a semi-final defeat.
The U-15ƒ Omagh CBS footballers have been edged out by St Pat's, Cavan in gut-wrenching fashion. "These are the ups and downs of management," former Tyrone star McBride offers.
There's little time for dwelling on the defeat. Thoughts must turn to Monaghan and another last-four showdown. This afternoon's All-Ireland U-21 semi-final clash with Cork on Saturday that is coming quickly into view.
A step outside Ulster represents a step into the unknown. McBride has been running the numbers in his head but two questions dominate. Can his side recover physically? And can they recover mentally?
"We have a few bangs and bruises. It was a real war of attrition for both teams (in the Ulster final). If you wanted to tick boxes for an Ulster championship game, well that final had everything," he said.
McBride should be pulling from a full deck this afternoon but getting his side to refocus is a challenge. The Ulster U-21 title was the county's first since 1999 but it held even more significance for this group.
Three years ago as minors they secured the county's first provincial U-18 crown since World War II ended. They won that day by coming from eight points down to pip Tyrone.
Those who felt they had pick-pocketed a superior Tyrone side with a well-timed sucker-punch were given more credence when it was the Red Hand who went on to make an All-Ireland final appearance that year while Monaghan wouldn't get past the semi-final stage.
That they saw off Tyrone - the reigning All-Ireland champions - once again in this year's U-21 final served as a reminder that Monaghan's minor win had been no fluke.
"At the start of the year we entered three competitions," McBride said. "There was the Shamrock Cup and we were beaten in the final by Tyrone. There was the Ulster championship and now that is over and we have taken the season that way.
"And I think that has helped the lads refocus this week but to be honest it is difficult."
McBride acknowledged there was some expectation within the county surrounding this group considering their exploits three years ago but he is full of praise for the bigger picture thinking within the county.
"There probably was some expectation but Monaghan have been very professional as a county in how they have developed. They don't rely on one team coming through, they have broadened their whole horizons with regard to developing players," he said.
"They have over 30 clubs and probably have punched over their weight but having Malachy O'Rourke there is a huge plus. There's huge planning and forward thinking there."
The video work on Cork revealed to McBride that they will pose a different challenge to what they have faced to date, even if most would have expected Kerry to emerge from Munster.
"Kerry had some wonderful forwards and they were doing some lovely things with the ball. But Cork had systems for dealing with it. At midfield and in defence they dealt with them very well. They'll ask different questions but this is top table dining."