Semi-finals ‘realistic’ target for Monaghan

Achievement is the word that should be commonly associated with Monaghan right now.

Semi-finals ‘realistic’ target for Monaghan

Every goal Malachy O’Rourke has set for his team they have attained. Last year it was promotion from Division 3, a Division 3 title and a first Ulster crown in 25 years.

This year so far appears to be little different, with Monaghan having made the jump to Division 1 while beating Donegal again in a Division 2 final.

Now Dick Clerkin reveals their Championship sights are set on winning an All-Ireland quarter-final.

There’s a keenness, he says, to prove they weren’t satisfied by last year’s historic provincial success.

“It was a great achievement, a great feather in the cap, but again it’s parked. It’s the sort of thing you’ll look back on fondness when you finish up, but now, especially with the way the league campaign went and the (Division 2) final against Donegal, there is actually more for this panel of players, the young players, the glass ceiling that has been punched through.

“Can they first of all get to the All-Ireland quarter-final stages? We’ve slipped up in it a few times. Get to an All-Ireland semi-final stage and beyond that. We have to be realistic. We have to progress.

“Whether we win on Sunday or not we’re targeting a minimum of getting to the August Bank Holiday weekend. That’s where we need to be every year.”

The visit of Tyrone to Clones presents a chance for Monaghan to make up for last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Mickey Harte’s side, an opportunity to show how much it hurt to lose so soon after their Ulster triumph.

“That’s definitely more to the forefront,” admits Clerkin. “We’ve openly said it was a disappointment. We didn’t perform. We narrowly lost to a Tyrone team that performed very well and had momentum from the qualifiers.

“Was there an overhang from the Ulster final? It’s hard to say. It surpassed a lot of people’s expectations as a year and it can be difficult to replicate that. But it was still a game we could have won but we didn’t get over the line. I’ve gone on record as saying that it took a little gloss off the Ulster final. That game was an ideal opportunity. It’s something Monaghan don’t get to very often.”

Clerkin doesn’t bite when it’s put to him Monaghan might have won the game had the black card been in operation and resulted in Seán Cavanagh departing for the remaining 20-plus minutes following his tackle on Conor McManus. He knows Monaghan simply didn’t play well enough.

“Maybe if we had have signed off by getting to an All-Ireland semi-final and got moral victories and a pat on the back, we could have taken a step back. But it’s been a driving motivation this year that having lost to Tyrone the way we did, there’s unfinished business there. We feel we can progress and that’s a good way to be going into the year.”

After a 2013 season when he returned late to the panel after the birth of his son, Clerkin admitted it took him a while to get used to not starting, having done so for the vast majority of his career.

The 32-year-old’s confident he has put himself in the best position this year for a midfield berth.

“I’m pushing myself as hard as I can but again I’m not going to push myself beyond what I can physically and mentally do. If that brings me a starting place then all well and good. If it’s only contributing as a sub then so be it but I’ll be pushing for a place on Sunday.

“You have to be realistic too, I’m going on 33 now and have a lot of miles in the legs. The way the game has gone now, especially with the introduction of the black card, it’s just relentless pace. You need ferocious levels of fitness. It’s very unusual now to see midfielders and players in that area of the pitch lasting the 70 minutes at my age.”

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