THIS is a fascinating encounter, not least because while Monaghan haven’t won an Ulster title in 22 years, they are far from being new kids on the block.
This team is six years in the making under Seamus McEnaney. While there were suspicions that they had taken a couple of steps back after going so close to beating Tyrone in the 2007 final and pushing Kerry to a point in the All-Ireland quarter-final, the progress has been very noticeable this term. At their press night the week before last, Paul Finlay, Owen Lennon and McEnaney all placed the credit for that firmly at Paul Grimley’s door.
Much as he did with Kieran McGeeney in Kildare, the Pearse Óg man has worked on releasing the shackles of fear and this is a side that now plays with a relative abandon that confirms their confidence. Where once they were set up to try to prevail in a dogfight, now their philosophy is that they will just outscore the opposition. Despite the upheaval surrounding the goalkeeping situation on the morning of the Armagh game, they recovered from an uncertain start to blitz the Division 2 league champions.
Fermanagh were dispensed with quite easily in the semi-final, even if they slacked off in the second half. For that reason,Monaghan are fancied in many quarters to come out on top in Clones tomorrow, even though Tyrone remain the bookmakers’ favourites.
Mickey Harte will have to do without Stephen O’Neill and that’s a blow, even if Tommy McGuigan is no mean operator It still seems strange that people are so willing to write the Red Hands off. It says much for the road they have travelled in the past decade that losing an All-Ireland semi-final as they did last year is deemed a failure.
Tyrone might not have shot the lights out in getting to the decider with their victories over Antrim and Down, but they were comfortable on either occasion.
The defence has undergone a bit of a shake-up, with Cathal McCarron making his first start and the durable Ryan McMenamin recalled.
Brian Dooher, Seán Cavanagh and Joe McMahon should all have improved for the game time from the previous two games having missed huge chunks of the league (or all of it in Dooher’s instance). Their work in the half-forward line will be crucial as ever.
Tight but in such circumstances, it’s sensible to go with the team with know-how.
- Verdict: Tyrone
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