Farney taking nothing for granted in Armagh replay
IN Ulster, the prospect of being brought back down to earth is never too far away.
And this week, Monaghan legend Eugene 'Nudie' Hughes saw the mood in the county move from over-the-top optimism to jumpy anxiety ahead of Sunday's provincial semi-final replay with Armagh.
Monaghan's win against Tyrone suggested the Farney men had kicked on from their breakthrough provincial success last year. They were, it seemed, shorn of none of the drive of last summer and suddenly some supporters were looking beyond the provincial boundaries to bigger things.
"It's been said for a while that this Monaghan team doesn't carry the favourites' tag well," said Hughes, the only man to win an All Star at corner-back and corner-forward.
"The media can build you up but you have to be able to switch yourself off because you really are only as good as your last game. That Armagh game will have brought them back to earth and if they can forget about whatever tag they have been given before the game then they are very good.
"People were getting excited after the Tyrone game but they have dropped a gear – there's no doubt about that.
"Monaghan got the breaks and got things right that day and probably should have been more comfortable. But we have to be realistic. At the minute, Monaghan are a top-eight team and on a given day we could trouble a lot of teams."
A win against Armagh on Sunday would see them into back-to-back Ulster finals for the first time since 1944 when they lost the second of two deciders to Cavan.
They probably should have made that small piece of history already. Blowing a winning position with less than five minutes to go is at odds with the reputation Monaghan have made for themselves as a hard-nosed side that bend teams to their will.
"We made some basic errors and the tugging of the jersey was just one episode," said Hughes.
"We should have been able to close it out. They were three points up with five minutes to go and you shouldn't lose that lead, especially for a team that has one of the better defensive records in the country.
"The balance of scores is a bit of a worry. We get a lot from frees and Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus. The way teams approach us now is they try to shackle McManus and not give frees away inside 55 metres because (Rory) Beggan can score from there.
"That's what teams will do because they know that on his day McManus is one of the best in the country. He can take on his man and score or create something.
"But teams are trying to keep him out wide and away from goals. The hard ground would be a worry with his ankle but he is a formidable talent and hopefully another week will have brought him on more."
Hughes expects more of the same claustrophobic football on Sunday but the psychological battle could swing again. Armagh went in as underdogs last time out but more will be expected of them this time around with the return of three players from suspension.
"Monaghan can up the ante and the psychological battle is going to be very important.
"Can Armagh keep the same tempo going and approach the game in the same way when they have three players back?
"They'll be expected to be stronger this weekend because last weekend they showed they have a depth of talent that maybe Monaghan don't have at the moment. The return of Donaghy, Toner and Mallon will be a serious lift to them but they still have to deliver on that.
"I think you'll see another tight game and a very intense one that will go to the wire.
"Hopefully they'll learn from the last day and see out a winning position so I think the experience will see them through."