18 December 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Unlike this time 12 months ago, Monaghan don’t spend this Christmas as double Ulster football champions (quadruple, including the 2013 senior and minor ladies), but it’s fair to say that the county is in rude health looking ahead to 2015. by COLM SHALVEY

Monaghan’s long unbeaten record in Clones eventually fell in July’s Ulster SFC Final against Donegal and they were put to the sword by Dublin in their All-Ireland quarter-final, but another Allianz National Football League promotion and winning a championship game at Croke Park for only the second time in the county’s history and the first in all of 84 years meant supporters again had plenty to shout about.

After back-to-back Division Three and Division Two trophies, Monaghan are in with the big guns of the top flight next year. This Division One campaign will see Monaghan play four away games, three of which are against the last trio of teams in the 2013 All-Ireland race, namely Mayo, Donegal and champions Kerry. The other away game is the competition opener against Tyrone on the last day of January. Monaghan’s first home game of the league is slated for Castleblayney against Cork, while last year’s NFL Division One finalists Dublin and Derry will both visit Clones.

The cut-throat nature of the league fixtures means room for experimentation may be limited, which may place an extra emphasis on next month’s Dr. McKenna Cup games against UUJ, Down and Cavan for giving new and returning players a chance to stake their claim for involvement.

Malachy O’Rourke has assembled a motivated and battle-hardened panel, with no retirements yet announced, and he has also managed to hold on to his backroom team, despite reported interest in trainer Ryan Porter from his native Donegal. Colin Walshe and Jack McCarron face long spells on the sidelines as they recover from cruciate-ligament injuries, but both will hope to make it back in time for the championship, with the 2013 All-Star corner-back targeting the Ulster SFC opener against Cavan.

The clash with neighbours Cavan – due to be the first quarter-final – will be in the back of minds from long before May 24. With Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Derry and Down all on the other side of the draw, the winners of what is set for a fiercely-contested local derby will be fancied to advance to the Ulster final, which would be a third in a row for Monaghan; something the county hasn’t managed since the 1920s.

In Dick Clerkin’s article in the new Monaghan GAA Yearbook, he says “never…


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