“This is not about me,” Banty insisted. But it is a plea that has already fallen on deaf ears. Wexford v Monaghan won’t be just another football qualifier. They’ll call it the Banty derby.
Eight teams went into the bowl for yesterday’s round 2B draw, with most eyes fixed on Monaghan and who might they get. Malachy O’Rourke’s charges, after all, weren’t supposed to be in the bowl in the first place. After Mayo, they were the second high-profile county upset in their quest for provincial tin. Armagh-Monaghan would have made for a tasty all-Ulster clash.
Instead, the Farney men were handed a potentially sticky assignment in the south-east against a county now managed by one of their own. Seamus McEnaney knows the road from Monaghan to Wexford like the back of his hand at this stage. He’s been traveling it twice and three times a week since last November. Two and a half hours down, two and a half hours spent in Wexford Park or the county’s centre of excellence in Ferns and two hours back up the road. And as he said himself earlier this year, the speed limit isn’t always obeyed.
McEnaney is also well acquainted with these Monaghan players. Colin Walshe, Kieran Hughes, Conor McManus and Dessie Mone were all on the field when referee Paddy Neilan called time on Saturday’s Ulster SFC semi-final against Down. All four were on the field at Croke Park when Kildare ended Monaghan’s involvement in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC. That fourth round qualifier fixture would prove to be Seamus McEnaney’s last as Monaghan manager.
He was at the helm six seasons and although determined to serve a seventh, he was informed by the Monaghan board he had to put forward his nomination for the position. He subsequently stepped down.
Meath came calling and although he squared off against his native county during the 2012 league - the Royals won the Division 2 fixture 1-15 to 1-9 - he’s never managed against Monaghan in the championship, a county he shed tears for when Kerry squeezed past them in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Yesterday morning’s draw changed all that.
“This is not about me. This is about Wexford,” he asserted.
“The way that managers move around now, these things will happen. It happens in the Premiership every weekend when the season is ongoing. I don’t think it is a big thing anymore, a manager facing off against his home county. We saw Mick O’Dwyer managing against Kerry. And there are plenty more examples.”
Having fallen at the first hurdle in Leinster, the Wexford manager said it was imperative the team came through the first round of qualifiers.
“My goal for Wexford was to be playing championship in the middle of July. We’re delighted to be in the second round.”
Surprised to see Monaghan in the second round?
“I am. Monaghan have gone really well over the last few years and are one of the top five teams in the country. I did not think they would be in the qualifiers at this stage.”
Elsewhere in the draw, Tipperary are on the road north for the second summer running. Having been drawn away to Derry in round four of the qualifiers last year, Liam Kearns’ side were yesterday handed a difficult assignment away to Cavan.
Meanwhile, Clare will be without half-forward Shane Brennan for this Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC round 2A qualifier. Brennan, younger brother of 2016 All Star nominated midfielder Gary, damaged ligaments in his ankle during the county’s 1-18 to 1-12 Munster semi-final defeat to Kerry at Cusack Park earlier this month.
“Unfortunately, Shane won’t be part of the panel on Saturday. He is going to be out for a couple of months,” said Clare manager Colm Collins.
“He is a really good player but you have got 30-odd guys in a panel and you have got to be able to handle these things. If a player gets injured, it’s a chance for somebody else and hopefully, whoever replaces Shane can come up to the mark and do a good job.”
On the challenge in front of them, Collins added: “Ironically, we have played Laois twice in challenge games and we have had two very good games with them. They have a lot of very good players and I would say we will have to be at our best if we are going to do well there.” Clare defeated Laois 0-14 to 1-10 at this juncture last year.
All-Ireland Round 2B qualifiers (Saturday, July 8):
Cavan v Tipperary, Kingspan Breffni Park, 2pm; Carlow v Leitrim, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm; Wexford v Monaghan, Innovate Wexford Park, 3pm; Westmeath v Armagh, TEG Cusack Park.
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