By James McMahon
An all-Ulster affair gets the weekend proceedings under way at Croke Park and you’d expect there’ll be little to choose between the sides once the final whistle is blown.
The Farney County, not surprisingly, had much to celebrate after their long overdue provincial title success, but their arrival at the All-Ireland series had minds focused. Indeed their journey could yet traverse summer and the first real sign of shortening days.
Not many expected Monaghan to topple the All-Ireland champions a fortnight ago. But crucially Malachy O’Rourke and his squad believed they could.
Their capture of the Anglo Celt Cup was emphatic, irrespective of Donegal’s flatness on the day. You could add the latter looked off colour because of the sheer intent that Monaghan displayed right from the off.
Darren Hughes and Owen Lennon bossed midfield in those crucial early stages, while in the attack Kieran Hughes fired over some delightful points. The winners never looked in real trouble and were full of running at the end.
Confidence is sure to be high as they head south. The question is can they bring with them the same momentum and drive that lit up Clones on 21 July? They will attempt to do it with the same side that started against Donegal
Tyrone safely negotiated the sometimes treacherous waters of the back door route. However, you would not give them first class honours for they way did it.
While they always had a measure of control in their wins over Roscommon, Kildare and Meath, they were times when you thought they would kick on and see out the match with ease. That did not happen.
Back in 2008, Mickey Harte’s side exploded into life in the last eight when Dublin were sent packing. Sam Maguire was heading north a month later.
However this current Tyrone side are not as the good as that vintage of five years ago. Yet, they could rewrite history and defeating Monaghan could be the first chapter in a new era.
Sean Cavanagh was excellent for the Red Hand in the defeat of Meath. He kicked eight points in a performance that embodied pure athleticism and some telling interventions. Critics will point to his cynical fouling late on, yet he is not alone in that. Monaghan, no doubt will have a plan to curb his influence.
Matthew Donnelly and Darren McCurry have shown well for Tyrone this summer. With Justin McMahon back to full fitness and Stephen O’Neill capable of lighting up any game then Harte’s side should not lack confidence against a county they saw off in recent Ulster deciders.
However, this Monaghan team are more than capable of setting up road blocks that could frustrate Tyrone in their attempts to establish productive raids.
In attack, they have the personnel to grab crucial scores and so send them into an All-Ireland semi-final after what is likely to be a tense and often bruising encounter.
Monaghan: R Beggan, K Duffy, D Wylie, C Walshe, V Corey, N McAdam, D Mone, O Lennon, D Hughes, P Finlay, S Gollogly, D Malone, P Donaghy, K Hughes, C McManus.
Tyrone: P McConnell, D Carlin, C Clarke, C McCarron, C McGinley, P Harte, C Gormley, C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh, Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, Joe McMahon, D McCurry, S O'Neill, M Penrose