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Embracing the moment


Malachy O'Rourke

Malachy O'Rourke

Malachy O'Rourke

DESPITE what they might say in Cork, asking the referee for time-keeping updates can be a beneficial experience. Ask Darren Hughes.

The clock was ticking on Saturday night and the back door was starting to close on Monaghan's All-Ireland ambitions. An oscillating qualifier had veered one way and then the other through a myriad of downpours, but now Eoghan O'Flaherty had just hit a beauty to edge Kildare one point ahead after some 69 minutes and 45 seconds.

Squeaky bum time.

At which point Hughes sought out the counsel of David Coldrick.

"I turned around to the referee and said 'How long is left?' and he said 'They're still two (minutes)'," the Monaghan midfielder recounts.

"We didn't panic, we kept to our system and got the free that took it to extra-time. You get the heads right for extra time and push on."

And now they're pushing on to an All-Ireland quarter-final with Dublin this Saturday evening (throw-in 6.0).

Last Saturday, so the Farney Army historians were quick to remind us, was Monaghan's first championship victory in Croke Park for 84 years. Now, a bit like the old 45A bus parable, they are seeking two in a week.

The challenge, though, is the ultimate double-whammy. They have a week to get over the draining physical exertions of 90 sodden minutes against Kildare opponents who pushed Malachy O'Rourke's men to the brink and back.

More pointedly, they've a week to get their heads around the ultimate challenge: the super-fit, supersonic Dubs. Not just All-Ireland champions, but arguably the fastest Gaelic football team ever.

The seven-day turnaround is hardly ideal, and even Kildare manager Jason Ryan expressed sympathy on that score, speculating that Monaghan legs might start to flag in the last 20 minutes against Dublin - which is usually the time when Jim Gavin's jet-heeled cavalry come charging in from the bench.

"That's not his problem, so it's not!" says Hughes, told of the Kildare manager's comments. "We'll worry about that, so we will."


Besides, Monaghan are not in the market for defeatist excuses even before a ball has been kicked. "Ah here, you're in an All-Ireland quarter-final, you're not going to start complaining," he maintains. "It's a great place to be. We're in a good place ... it's our fault we didn't win an Ulster final."

The biggest challenge this week, he confirms, won't be getting the heads screwed on for Dublin but rather "getting the bodies right".

"A 13-day turnaround from the Ulster final was major, but a six-day turnaround is just about getting the bodies right," Hughes confirms.

"We didn't really train for a week after the Ulster final. It was all about recovery so it's just about getting the physical shape back and mentally knowing what you're coming up against ... they (the medical team) will be in overtime but, sure, they're getting well paid for it!" he laughs.

Scotstown's finest has little direct knowledge of Dublin, having faced them in just "a couple of league games, nothing to shout home about." But their reputation goes before them, plus the newly acquired tag of being virtually unbeatable.

"Ach, well, they're All-Ireland champions on merit and played some great football this year," says Hughes.

"They have great players and a great bench at their disposal. We'll sit down and analyse them and get the legs ready as best possible for next week."

Excited to play them? "It's not something I have even thought about," he demurs. "It hasn't even sunk in. It was just about getting through (against Kildare)."

Still, next Saturday isn't just a daunting test of Monaghan's mettle, it's a challenge for Dublin too.

The opposition will offer something different to what has been encountered, thus far, in defence of Sam. When bringing their A-game into battle, Monaghan are stingy exemplars of the blanket defence model that Dublin rarely, if ever, encounter in Leinster.


In the first half against Kildare, as Emmet Bolton ghosted from deep to breach them for a brace of goals, that A-game - the team's trademark intensity - had gone AWOL. After the break, and into extra-time, was closer to the Monaghan of 2013.

This was never more evident than during one revealing cameo in the second period of extra-time. As Kildare chased the game, Hughes and younger brother Kieran put their bodies on the line to execute timely block-downs in quick succession. It served as a statement of Monaghan's intent. Thou shalt not pass.

But they'll still have to up it again - considerably - to live with Dublin. Welcome to the big time.

"Our target at the start of the year was to get back to Croke Park - and we're there," says Hughes. "We'll prepare ourselves as best as possible for it, no matter who we're playing.

"It was something we wanted to do and I suppose winning here (against Kildare) was a big step for us. When you're down to the last eight in an All-Ireland, you're never going to get an easy draw. I suppose time will tell next Saturday."

How long is left? Four days and counting.