New-found depth helping Monaghan swim with sharks
Dessie Mone believes high-flying Monaghan have added more depth to their panel over the last number of seasons.
The Farney men have made an impressive start to the year and sit top of Division 1 after three rounds, having beaten two of the leading contenders for the All-Ireland title away from home.
And this weekend they find themselves on the road again as they travel to Omagh to face another big gun. They head to Healy Park facing a Tyrone team who have been pacing back and forth since their game with Cavan was called off last week. And they'll have to do it without a number of key men.
Mone himself is facing another six weeks on the sidelines after a wrist injury that required an operation. Captain and former All-Star Colin Walshe will also miss out after he picked up a hamstring injury in last weekend's win over Kerry.
In the same game Darren Hughes suffered a concussion that could also rule him out of Sunday. But Mone believes they have the depth to cope with such absentees.
"There's a few young lads coming through which is great to see," said Mone.
"We had the U-21s winning the Ulster (in 2016) so there is a lot of hard work done there with development squads from 14s to minors and you can see with some of the young lads coming in at the minute they are well-conditioned.
"So it's a learning curve for them. James Mealiff got starting there (in Killarney); it's great for him to learn starting against a top-class team like Kerry."
Monaghan's win in Killarney prompted one bookmaker to make Monaghan fourth favourites to win the league outright for the first time since 1985.
And despite their quick start, Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke denied they had put too emphasis on fitness for this time of the year.
"We prepared fairly well before Christmas but we haven't done much. We trained one night during (last) week. The games are coming thick and fast so you can't do much work in between, particularly with a panel like ours where you might not be as strong as some of the others and we are depending on a lot of the main players every day you go out, so we don't do too much work with them.
"So I wouldn't say we are doing a massive amount of work. The boys keep themselves in good shape and the fellas work very hard for each other and they look fit.
"But on another day when things aren't going so well they might not look as fit. We are in fairly good shape but I wouldn't say we have put a massive emphasis on fitness at this stage of the year."
And he insists they are mainly concerned with retaining their place in the top flight for 2018.
"There's no doubt that if we had been told before we started that we would have five points out of six after the first three games we would have gladly took it," said O'Rourke.
"The first thing we want is to preserve our place in Division 1 and we haven't done that yet and that's what we want to do because it is a great place to be blooding players and giving them a chance because you are playing against top-quality players.
"We are going into Tyrone and that's going to be very tough but that's why you want to be in Division 1 to test yourself so we'll get the head down and prepare as best we can."