Saturday 3 December 2016

Off The Ball: Tiny Monaghan show big ambition

Ger Gilroy

Published 02/03/2016 | 02:30

Monaghan's Conor McManus brushes off Dublin's David Byrne at Croke Park last weekend (SPORTSFILE)
Monaghan's Conor McManus brushes off Dublin's David Byrne at Croke Park last weekend (SPORTSFILE)

The election has restored the divide between rural and urban Ireland to the front pages and the airwaves.

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It's real and there's no point pretending otherwise. The hollowed-out main streets of most small towns around the country contrast with the speed at which rents rise for half-decent shop space on alleyways in Dublin. Another Starbucks anyone?

If the game is loaded economically then it's a gross deception to even consider the game fair when it comes to population and demographics for inter-county GAA, right? There's surely no possible way that a county with a population at the last census of 60,483 could compete with a county with a population of 1,273,069, right?

You'd think. Malachy O'Rourke, Monaghan and clearly Conor McManus spit in the eye of your demographics and it's about time we all started to pay attention.

It's been about 10 years of solid relevance now for Monaghan football. That game against Kerry which Kerry maintain they were never in danger of losing and Monaghan people claim they almost had in the bag was 2007. It may have seemed like an outlier until the last few years when they won a couple of Ulster titles and celebrated wildly on the pitch reminding everyone why the Ulster Championship matters.

Temptation

Each time they win something there's a temptation to think that's grand, that's them done, a little bit of silverware, great photos, some memories, they'll shuffle off now and let Tyrone or Donegal or someone else get going. Even last year's horrible finale against Tyrone felt like some kind of metaphorical bridge they couldn't cross. Same old story with the small team failing just when expectation should finally match talent and results.

Then they came to Croker on Saturday night last against Dublin and should have won.

They had the conditioning to match their demanding game-plan, they put intense pressure on Cian O'Sullivan by running him out of position consistently in the first half, their double sweepers were intelligent and calm in and out of possession and McManus was in messianic form.

When Jim Gavin needed cavalry he could call on Bernard Brogan and Brian Fenton. Ultimately that and some profligacy in front of goal cost Monaghan but they weren't there to be steamrolled like every single county in Leinster has been by the Dubs at one point or another in the last half decade.

It's clear that McManus is one of, if not the best, forward in the country. It's becoming clear that O'Rourke is just as good too. Their ambitions have to be bigger than Ulster now. The population of Monaghan would fit into Dublin 21 times. A kick of the ball separated them in the end.

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