Monaghan aiming high against Kerry despite ultra-slim squad numbers

Their boss ‘Banty’ McEnaney has effectively worked off a core of just 20 players so far this League campaign, writes Paul Keane.

Monaghan aiming high against Kerry despite ultra-slim squad numbers

When David Kirk came on for Monaghan against Donegal in Round 5 of the Allianz League, he became just the 23rd player to feature for the Farney in the campaign.

Andrew Woods and Colin Walshe have only three substitute appearances between them also, meaning boss ‘Banty’ McEnaney has effectively worked off an ultra-slim core of just 20 players so far.

Kerry, in contrast, who they face on Sunday, have used 27 players and all 27 of those have started at least one game while Galway, the league leaders, have experimented most with 31 players used so far. It’s the same story year in, year out with Monaghan, a small county of around 60,000, who similarly used the least number of players in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 Division 1 campaigns.

What’s kept them going, aside from the ebullience and ability of mentors like McEnaney and former boss Malachy O’Rourke, is the sheer quality of that core group of committed players which has been led for 13 years now by three-time All-Star Conor McManus.

Hosting Kerry this weekend takes McManus right back to his debut season, 2007, when they lost an All-Ireland quarter-final to the Kingdom by a point and McEnaney, in his first stint as manager, shed tears outside the dressing-room.

“We were in Division 2 in the league that year, we were away to London in one of the games, playing some of the lesser teams that are still in Division 4,” said McManus.

“That’s the base you were at back then so playing Kerry in Croke Park in an All-Ireland quarter-final was a big deal for Monaghan, they hadn’t been competing at that stage in quite a while. So it was different. Now you are used to it, playing year in, year out in the Championship and the league so it’s just another game.”

Monaghan aren’t just used to playing Kerry, they’re comfortable in those surroundings, drawing with the Munster champions in the 2018 Championship having beaten them earlier that year in the league in Inniskeen, where they meet again this weekend.

“It has been fairly competitive, it always has been between us,” said McManus.

Which is quite remarkable given the size of Monaghan and the small pool of players they’re picking from, relative to Kerry and most of the other Division 1 counties. After a great start to the campaign, beating Tyrone and Mayo and drawing with Dublin, they turned in their worst performance when they lost to Donegal 2-12 to 0-8 in Round 5.

“There have been more positives in most of the games than negatives but that was flipped on its head the last day against Donegal, there were probably more negatives than positives that day,” said McManus, who has struck 1-20 in five matches.

“But it’s the league and it’s tough, you’re playing week in, week out and maybe you are liable to get a performance like that. Hopefully our only poor performance was that one against Donegal and we can rectify it the next day and get a better performance.”

- Armagh based McKeever Sports has announced that it has secured the official GAA licence which gives McKeever sports the authority to manufacture official club and county playing kit and leisurewear.

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