Friday 24 May 2019

Monaghan's big test as they bid for eighth successive semi-final slot

Monaghan's progress since 2012 under Malachy O’Rourke, who took over in late 2012 has been remarkable, yielding two Ulster titles (2013-’15), five qualifications for the All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Monaghan's progress since 2012 under Malachy O’Rourke, who took over in late 2012 has been remarkable, yielding two Ulster titles (2013-’15), five qualifications for the All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Question: How many counties have reached their provincial football semi-finals for each of the last seven seasons?

Answer: Five

Question: How many counties have had to win games every year to reach the semi-finals?

Answer: Three. Cork and Kerry received byes in Munster for most seasons.

Question: So who are the remaining three?

Answer: Dublin, Monaghan and Donegal.

 

Given that Dublin are at record power levels and the rest of Leinster has been at its weakest in championship history, it's no surprise that Jim Gavin's men have skipped into the provincial semi-finals.

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The challenge is far more demanding in Ulster where, with the exception of Antrim, standards are relatively even. It makes the achievement by Donegal, who have reached the last eight semi-finals, and Monaghan all the more noteworthy.

Donegal's emergence as a consistent championship force wasn't unexpected, but the landscape appeared a lot less fertile in Monaghan in 2012 when they dropped into Division 3.

Progress

Their progress since then under Malachy O'Rourke, who took over in late 2012, has been remarkable, yielding two Ulster titles (2013-'15), five qualifications for the All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final.

It makes them, per capita, by far the most successful football county in the country.

The disappointment of losing last year's All-Ireland semi-final by a point to Tyrone took a long time to dissipate, but when the new season started they got the ultimate boost when beating Dublin in the first round of the Allianz League.

It looked like the launch of a great spring campaign but what happened afterwards has left Monaghan supporters unusually apprehensive about the championship clash with Cavan on Saturday.

Defeats by Roscommon, Galway, Tyrone, Kerry and Mayo left Monaghan in danger of relegation, a fate only avoided in the last round when Roscommon lost to Kerry. A Roscommon win or draw would have relegated Monaghan.

Monaghan's only win in that period was against Cavan, but unlike Saturday's clash, they had home advantage in Clones.

Cavan haven't reached the Ulster semi-final since 2015, but they see this as a real opportunity to make a bold statement under new manager Mickey Graham.

The big question for Monaghan is whether their erratic league form was a temporary setback or signs of a deeper malaise.

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