Donegal’s experience should be telling
Monaghan expected to come close to Ulster rivals in Division Two final
Odhran MacNiallais has been the one stand-out discovery of Donegal’s league campaign. photograph: Donna McBride/Inpho
With both sides having extracted full value from the league, the one thing guaranteed here is that whoever loses will expend no energy crying tears over spilt milk. Indeed you suspect if Jim McGuinness and Malachy O’Rourke were instructed to meet on the pitch at two o’clock tomorrow and toss a coin for the cup, neither of them would be overly put out.
There’s every chance it could throw up a decent and watchable encounter all the same. If they see each other again this year, it won’t be before the Ulster final. Given the cubic tonnage of water that will gush under the bridge between now and then, this can reasonably be taken as a game that exists as its own entity.
Both sides have kept marquee players back from the start, with Donegal naming a 15 that has no Mark McHugh in it and Monaghan likewise going without Darren Hughes. There’s little doubt that both will feature at some stage, with Hughes having gradually worked his way back from leg surgery.
The McHugh case is the more interesting of the two, however. He has no fitness concerns, having played a full game for Kilcar last weekend and taken a full part in training throughout their recent week in Portugal. This appears to be a simple case of him having lost his place in the side to his younger brother Ryan, installed here at centre-forward after a fine run of form for the county under-21s on their way to the Ulster final.
There have been rumblings for a few weeks in Donegal about the elder McHugh’s form. Partly it’s to do with Donegal having gradually moved away from the sweeper system of which he was such a vital part.
Otherwise, it’s just about as strong a Donegal team as they can muster. Odhran MacNiallais has been the one stand-out discovery of the league and with him, Ryan McHugh and Patrick McBreaty in situ along with Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy, the Monaghan defence has an awful lot of angles to attempt to keep covered.
O’Rourke doesn’t have Colin Walshe to call on and Monaghan will miss their All Star corner-back. But they will have vast experience in around the centre of the pitch where the majority of the battles will be waged – Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey at half-back, Paul Finlay and Owen Lennon in midfield, Stephen Gollogly at centre-forward. It must count for something.
Donegal weren’t overly extended when the sides met in Ballybofey early on in the league. They won’t win by the seven points they had in hand that day but when it comes right down to it, 13 of their starters tomorrow played in the 2012 All-Ireland final and Monaghan aren’t at full strength.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, F Kelly; D Mone, V Corey, K O’Connell; O Lennon, P Finlay; K Hughes, S Gollogly, C McGuinness; D Malone, J McCarron, C McManus
DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, K Lacey; F McGlynn, L McLoone, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; C Toye, R McHugh, O MacNiallais; C McFadden, M Murphy P McBrearty
Referee: David Gough (Meath)