By Orla Bannon
Former Monaghan player Paul Finlay says the sizeable anti-Croke Park sentiment marks a “significant shift” away from how headquarters was perceived a decade ago.
The two-time Ulster SFC winner believes Kerry’s trip up to Clones and Dublin’s journey to Omagh this weekend are the type of fixtures people wanted to see in the inaugural Super 8 season.
He was taken aback, however, by the negative commentary surrounding last week’s opening round of games in Croke Park.
“Croke Park has come in for a lot of flak and it seems there’s a growing feeling now that people would rather play in provincial grounds rather than a half-empty Croke Park.
“I was a little bit surprised all the talk was so negative last weekend about the place lacking atmosphere.
“Ten years ago players would have given everything to play there.
“When I was playing all you wanted to do was to get to Croke Park — it wouldn’t have mattered if there was only two people there. It is a complete turnaround now.
“There’s definitely a shift towards provincial grounds and there’s been a few humdingers like Kildare v Mayo in Newbridge and Armagh v Roscommon in Portlaoise.
“It seems that is what people want to see.”
Dublin will play two of their Super 8 games in Croke Park, a situation that was highlighted, debated, and generally kicked around.
Finlay said: “We all know how good they are and all the talk started that you’d have more chance of beating them outside of Croke Park and it’s sort of snowballed from there into this talk that there’s no atmosphere in it.
“It has caught on and the media are talking about it.
“I’m sure when it’s over the GAA will evaluate everything that’s happened this summer and make a few changes.
“Likewise, the pressure is off Monaghan to a certain extent and if they bring their A game I think they can beat Kerry.”
Kerry’s surprise defeat to Galway last weekend has heaped the pressure on Éamonn Fitzmaurice and his players ahead of tomorrow’s game in Clones. It would be unthinkable for them not to make it out of the Super 8 into the All-Ireland semi-finals, but that is the hole they have dug for themselves with a poor display against Galway.
“It’s been talked up as the biggest game for Monaghan in 30 years and it’s hard to argue against them with an All- Ireland semi-final place at stake.
“But the pressure is all on Kerry — Monaghan already have two points on the board so they can throw the kitchen sink at Kerry.”
Kerry have lost their last two league outings to Monaghan but bar the Ulster semi-final loss to Fermanagh, it’s the consistency of Monaghan’s championship performances which is encouraging Finlay to believe they could actually get a first championship win over the Kingdom.
“Kerry’s full-forward line is to be feared but I think they are fair game everywhere else.
“Darren Hughes and Niall Kearns’ mobility is an area they could gain a foothold and the Monaghan defence has been fairly solid all year, so Kerry’s forwards won’t get it all their own way. Everything is on the line for Kerry. It should be tight but it’s one Monaghan can win if they get everything right.”