Monaghan’s scope for improvement looks greater than Armagh’s

But pressure is always on Malachy O’Rourke’s side’s defence as the Ulster champions struggle badly to score goals

Armagh’s Ciaran McKeever is tackled by Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin during last week’s drawn encounter at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Armagh’s Ciaran McKeever is tackled by Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin during last week’s drawn encounter at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

If replays are about who learns most from the drawn game, Armagh must have knowledge coming out their ears. They haven’t lost a replay in 14 years, turning draws against Tyrone (twice), Sligo, Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh (twice) and Wicklow into safe passage. Although some of those replays were in their pomp, it’s a pleasing stat to have in their favour.

For most of those games – Tyrone in the thump and thunder years apart – they were reasonably heavy favourites the first day out and had to do little more than go and tidy up their mess the second. Not this time.

They fought tooth and nail to dig out a draw last Saturday against a Monaghan side that was curiously lethargic and possibly overconfident. It is Malachy O’Rourke’s side who are on tidying duty tomorrow.

Slot back

Given how well Armagh played, the return of their suspended trio Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy and Kieran Toner might not be etched in stone but it remains pretty likely. Toner will certainly slot back in at midfield where Dick Clerkin was excellent in the drawn game. Clerkin’s team-mate Darren Hughes was also equally forceful so Armagh need to find some traction there.

Monaghan’s priority will be to cut off the supply to Kevin Dyas and Jamie Clarke which so hurt them last weekend. Colin Walshe can’t allow himself to get such a run-around from Clarke and Vinny Corey has to hold the centre better than he did in a game where Dyas got on a world of ball.

Monaghan’s lock-tight defence is their best weapon; if they can be unsettled by the uncomplicated tactic of forwards getting out to ball first, they’re in trouble. In a way, it’s an unfair burden for their defenders to carry because they know that Monaghan don’t score enough to allow them an off-day. In their last five championship games, Monaghan have posted totals of 0-14, 1-12, 0-14, 0-13 and 1-10. The premium that puts on their defence is huge.

Little wonder they got caught giving away an equalising free against Armagh; they were blessed not to do the same against Tyrone.

Life would be a lot simpler for them if they scored the occasional goal. Monaghan just don’t score them when they’re on top. In their last 10 championship matches, they’ve scored just three goals.

That’s the equal worst record of any of the 24 teams left (Carlow also have three). Mayo have 19, Dublin 17, Kerry and Meath 15. Even blanket defence compatriots like Donegal and Tyrone have nine. Until that changes, Monaghan will obviously struggle to contend.

That said, their scope for improvement is probably greater here. Monaghan by two.

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