3 June 2016 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Monaghan begin their defence of the Ulster Senior Football Championship title when they take on Down in St Tiarnach’s Park, Clones, on Sunday at 2pm. by COLM SHALVEY

W ith Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan having justified favourites’ status in the three Ulster SFC games to date and the recent games in other provinces also following the form guide, Monaghan will hope that trend continues on Sunday.
Monaghan go into this one with odds as low as 1/4 and although that may set alarm bells ringing for supporters who have seen Down teams cause upsets in the past, Malachy O’Rourke’s men have become accustomed to being tipped to win games like this. Any danger of complacency for Monaghan should have been wiped out when Down pushed them all the way in their league clash at St. Tiarnach’s Park in February and they can also look back on the 2012 Ulster semi-final, when Down wiped out a nine-point deficit to edge through.
The second-round game was one of Down’s better performances in a miserable Allianz National Football League run that saw them fail to earn a point as they suffered a quick relegation back to Division Two. The Mourne County did salvage some pride when giving Mayo a scare on the last day, but if they are to turn things around, they will have to reverse the trend that has seen the likes of Derry and Armagh unable to atone for poor league campaigns in their championship openers.
Monaghan, of course, were also threatened with relegation going into the final round after two early wins were followed by four straight defeats, but a dramatic comeback against Donegal saw them finish the NFL on a high.
Down have a reputation for being able to surface overnight “like mushrooms”, to use Christy Ring’s famous phrase about the Cork hurlers. Cork have already seen their Munster SHC end with a tame defeat against Tipperary, with Down now seeking to avoid the same fate while also moving away from their county’s traditional style of play. Éamonn Burns, who took over from Jim McCorry as manager at the start of this year, has been speaking about a change from the ‘Down way’ of attacking football; something that he began attempting to implement during the spring.
Down hit just 2-60 in the NFL (an average score of just 9.4 points per game), not helped by the absence of star forward Dónal O’Hare for three of their seven fixtures, including their visit to Sunday’s venue. Ryan and Jerome Johnston are out through …

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