Monaghan are expected to just turn up and win at Croke Park today, and Paul Finlay finds the presumption a little unnerving on a few levels.
For one thing, they have underperformed there so often, and their form this summer has been unconvincing with limp victories over Fermanagh, Cavan, Wexford and Carlow hardly inspiring confidence they can suddenly switch into ‘A’ game mode now.
While motivation won’t be a problem facing a Down side that ambushed them in the Ulster semi-final four weeks ago, Finlay says that alone won’t be enough to get them through to the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Monaghan actually,” says their now retired 2013 and 2015 Ulster winner.
“There is no wild excitement around the place about being in the last 12.
Monaghan people expect that’s where we should be because Monaghan are playing at a higher level in Division 1.
“It’s been a case of getting the games out of the way rather than being excited about them.
“And there is a heavy weight of expectation on the team to get the performance that’s needed.
“Those Monaghan players have high expectation of themselves and will feel they haven’t got to the level they need to get to.”
Getting more out of a potentially prolific full-forward line is an obvious area of where improvement can be gained, for Finlay.
After excelling in the league, hitting 1-9 against Dublin enhancing his growing reputation, it really hasn’t happened for Jack McCarron this summer.
“It hasn’t happened yet,” Finlay argues, “but he has the ability to shoot the lights out.”
“Even Conor (McManus) has had to work really hard for the scores he has got.
“You just need something to spark to ignite you, and they should relish playing on a really fast pitch like Croke Park with more space for the forwards.
“They just have to get more ball into them to give them a chance.”
Finlay played in the 2014 fourth round qualifier extra-time win over Kildare but otherwise the Croke Park experience has been a joyless one for Monaghan.
That has been the case under both Seamus McEnaney and Malachy O’Rourke in the past decade.
Recalling their win at this stage three years ago, and rediscovering their physicality, are all-important now.
“That win definitely got the monkey off our back because we were a long time waiting for a championship victory,” Finlay said.
“Can we win again?
“That’s the task for the players now and a few of them will feel their direct opponent got the better of them the last time in the Athletic Grounds, so that will be in their minds too.
“They’ll have analysed the (Ulster semi-final) game to death at this stage.
“Down were physical, Monaghan had no problem with that, but it happened. I expect that won’t be the case this time.”
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