BAND OF BROTHERS

Colm O’Rourke says Mon­aghan have some­thing spe­cial

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLM O’ROURKE

In Croke Park, Ul­ster sides tend to shake off their con­ser­va­tive ap­proach

YOU didn’t have to be Ein­stein to fig­ure out that Mon­aghan and Ty­rone were go­ing to be in­volved at the busi­ness end of the cham­pi­onship. The back­door sys­tem suits the strong and has been re­in­forced by the new for­mat this sum­mer. As a re­sult, Ty­rone be­come the first team in his­tory to reach an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal af­ter los­ing two cham­pi­onship matches. Mon­aghan have lost one — that last-gasp de­feat to Fer­managh in the Ul­ster semi-fi­nal.

That is all im­ma­te­rial now. They are two of the best teams in the coun­try so they de­serve a shot at a big day out. When they met in the All-Ire­land quar­ter-fi­nal three years ago it was the game from hell, with all the worst el­e­ments and coarse­ness which Gaelic foot­ball can of­fer at its rawest. There was ‘ruf­fle­gate’ with Tier­nan Mc­Cann, and a cou­ple of Mon­aghan play­ers did not cover them­selves in glory ei­ther. In many ways it was a wa­ter­shed game be­tween th­ese two coun­ties and meet­ings since then have been more about foot­ball than spite.

Mc­Cann has re­cov­ered his rep­u­ta­tion through a series of con­sis­tent dis­plays and there are few more ath­letic player in the coun­try. He is the mod­ern foot­baller — he wears num­ber five but ranges all over the pitch and if his kick­ing was a lit­tle bet­ter he could re­ally de­stroy teams. In say­ing that, he kicked a great point off his left foot against Done­gal last week­end, so the last piece of that jig­saw might be near­ing com­ple­tion.

In many ways, the change in Mc­Cann has been the same for Ty­rone. The div­ing, feign­ing in­jury and mouthing has been re­placed by a much more manly ap­proach, even if a cou­ple of play­ers went down too eas­ily against Done­gal and then stayed down too long. Foot­ball needs to be more like hurl­ing. If a hurler stays down for 20 sec­onds he needs se­ri­ous med­i­cal at­ten­tion, if he is down for a minute you might as well call the morgue. There is a code of hon­our in­volved and get­ting an op­po­nent sent off would be looked on as a mor­tal sin. So to­day we hope for that same at­ti­tude among the foot­ballers.

Of course, th­ese sides are no strangers. When they met in the Ul­ster cham­pi­onship, the Far­ney men won in a tight fin­ish. Nei­ther team were nearly as good then as they are now. Ty­rone have launched the seekand-de­stroy bench, who have dev­as­tated tir­ing de­fences while Mon­aghan have im­proved game by game, if you leave out the fi­asco against Fer­managh. In hind­sight, it was prob­a­bly a good les­son for them. So they both can be said to be in rude health.

If the game has changed dra­mat­i­cally over a short few years, then it is the role of the goal­keeper which is its great­est man­i­fes­ta­tion. The onus is now on the ‘keeper to get all his kick­outs to his own side, act as a sweeper, save shots and score long-dis­tance frees. No­body car­ries out this role bet­ter at the mo­ment than Mon­aghan’s Rory Beg­gan. Niall Mor­gan is not far be­hind at the other end to­day. Last week he posted a few long kick-outs in the sec­ond half which broke the Done­gal press and cre­ated scores. Beg­gan and Stephen Clux­ton would have been proud of them. To­day’s shoot-out be­tween the two goal­keep­ers is a sideshow which could have a huge im­pact on the re­sult.

Ty­rone are favourites, mainly be­cause the as­sump­tion is that in the last 15 min­utes they will send on play­ers who are guar­an­teed to make an im­pact. Many teams just put on sub­sti­tutes and hope for the best. It is not a new thing to pick the team to fin­ish the match and work back­wards, I have even tried it my­self so it can’t be that dif­fi­cult. The re­al­ity of that ap­proach is the best team in­vari­ably does not start and I know very well from ex­pe­ri­ence that play­ers need a lot of con­vinc­ing that com­ing on is bet­ter than start­ing. Nat­u­rally, they all still want the trap­pings of be­ing on the pitch when the ball is be­ing thrown in.

There is no doubt that Ty­rone have bet­ter for­wards com­ing on than those march­ing be­hind the band so it is also a bit of a risk leav­ing them off. At this stage, too, Mon­aghan know fairly well what is go­ing to hap­pen in the last quar­ter. They will have their ar­range­ments in or­der as to who will take Kieran McGeary, Lee Bren­nan and Harry McClure when they come on. Con­all Mc­Cann made a big im­pact last week and will come in to mid­field.

So Mon­aghan have had the puz­zle set for them a week in ad­vance and the les­son this year is that they have gone about th­ese things with grow­ing en­thu­si­asm. I have a feel­ing that the draw against Kerry was a sem­i­nal mo­ment for this Mon­aghan team. Play­ing so well and let­ting it slip at the end can be dev­as­tat­ing, but it can also harden each in­di­vid­ual to en­sure it never hap­pens again.

It al­most ap­pears that Mon­aghan have no subs and come to th­ese big games in a 15-seater bus. Or maybe a taxi, and a limo for Conor Mc­Manus! Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. They are a team in the proper sense of the word with ev­ery­one putting their necks on the line.

The stand-out player along with Mc­Manus has been Karl O’Connell, who seems to have be­come a sen­sa­tion overnight, yet he un­der­stands very well that he is a cog in a big wheel. Vinny Corey keeps him grounded and the Wylie brothers are a big-game act while Ryan McA­naspie and Der­mot Malone have had great sea­sons.

Mon­aghan demon­strated against Gal­way the need for width and pa­tience to break down a mass de­fence. Ty­rone are a bet­ter team than Gal­way so the gaps will be smaller and won’t last as long. Colm Ca­vanagh will stand as a sen­try in front of Mc­Manus, as well as catch­ing high ball in the mid­dle of the field. He will cer­tainly make life dif­fi­cult for all the Mon­aghan for­wards.

Still, Ty­rone did strug­gle for quite a while against Done­gal and the fi­nal score­line was not in­dica­tive of the trend of most of the game. But the great teams make hay in the last quar­ter and Ty­rone have been do­ing that against all op­po­si­tion. Even against Dublin they played their best in the last 10 min­utes. It shows two things: that they have an in­cred­i­bly high level of fit­ness, bol­stered by the subs; and their ap­proach to games is a con­ser­va­tive one. Yet, who can ar­gue with a win­ning for­mula?

For all the tac­ti­cal nous ap­plied by Ty­rone, I find it very hard to un­der­stand why they don’t put much more pres­sure on the op­po­si­tion kick-out ear­lier in the game. They only moved up on Dublin when the horse had bolted and Done­gal held on to their own kick-outs quite eas­ily. Some day Ty­rone will play with the hand­brake off and they will oblit­er­ate some big team. At the mo­ment they seem un­sure of them­selves and won’t take a chance on play­ing flat-out from the start. On some big days this big push at the end does not work and they have been caught al­ready by Mon­aghan and Dublin this year.

No mat­ter what Mon­aghan do at the mo­ment, they seem to me to be con­stantly un­der­rated. They are a bet­ter team now than last year, or for the last decade when they were get­ting close but never smoked the cigar. There have been times in the past when their dis­ci­pline let them down, when they needed to hold their heads. That seems less of an is­sue now but any type of over-ma­cho ap­proach will be pe­nalised by frees and maybe the wrong colour of cards. Most of the ref­er­ees now go search­ing for yel­low far too quickly and hope­fully the ref­eree to­day does not start is­su­ing cards need­lessly — apart from a full frontal as­sault, and even that is al­lowed in hurl­ing.

In Croke Park, Ul­ster sides tend to shake off their con­ser­va­tive ap­proach and re­ally go for it. That may sound a bit op­ti­mistic as both th­ese teams have not had happy ex­pe­ri­ences in the re­cent past, Ty­rone against Dublin last year and Mon­aghan’s re­cent record in quar­ter-fi­nals. Yet I am ex­pect­ing a bet­ter game than nor­mal be­tween th­ese two teams, and the sur­face and weather makes ev­ery­thing hap­pen a bit quicker than else­where.

That should suit Ty­rone as their ex­tra per­son­nel in re­serve should be even more valu­able. Yet there is some­thing about Mon­aghan, and their group of play­ers who are not wed­ded ex­clu­sively to county foot­ball but who turn out rou­tinely in club league matches. They are more com­posed this last cou­ple of months, like men on an en­joy­able mis­sion with their peo­ple, ex­hort­ing them ever on­wards, and I ex­pect them to pre­vail.

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