Opportunity knocks twice for Monaghan
Ideal chance for Malachy O’Rourke’s side to avenge their defeat in Ulster to Down
Down’s Kevin McKernan in action against Monaghan’s Vinny Corey during the Ulster semi-final. Photograph: Philip Magowan/Presseye/Inpho
Most managers will tell you that for several nights after losing a championship match they wake up in cold sweats, wondering what might have been, what they would do differently if they only got the chance to play that game all over again.
And so it comes to pass: exactly five weeks after losing the Ulster football semi-final to Down, Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke gets to play that game all over again in Saturday evening’s fourth round qualifier at Croke Park.
Only now, in some ways, there’s an even bigger prize at stake – a place in an All-Ireland quarter-final – and a potential shot at All-Ireland champions Dublin.
Ever since the football qualifiers were first introduced, in 2001, they’ve had the consistently uncanny knack of throwing up in-season rematches such as this, with consistently mixed outcomes. Sometimes, the original result is repeated; on other occasions the result is overturned.
Indeed in that first year of football’s back-door, Galway lost their Connacht semi-final to Roscommon, 2-12 to 0-14 only to draw them again in the All-Ireland quarter-final and this time – with the arguably bigger prize at stake – emerge winners, 0-14 to 1-05. The rest is All-Ireland history.
For then Galway manager John O’Mahony that memory is still clear 16 years on. With that in mind O’Mahony also sees Saturday’s rematch as advantage Monaghan, even if Down have already beaten them.
“I would think that while Monaghan haven’t set the world alight they have won another game since, and I feel will have a huge incentive going into this game, and with that would see them as having the advantage over Down,” he says.
“They went into that semi-final as overwhelming favourites, and Down ambushed them big time, and deservedly beat them. And I think knowing the mental attitude of players there will be a huge unity of purpose from Monaghan, not to let it happen twice in the one year.”
In 2001, says O’Mahony, Galway viewed that quarter-final rematch with Roscommon as exactly the game they were looking for.
“Yes, absolutely. And I remember the context of that second shot against Roscommon, we had played Wicklow, Armagh, and then Cork, and that brought us the quarter-final
“And at the time I think the draws were made in advance, then went out ‘live’ on The Sunday Game. So we had played Cork in Croke Park on the Saturday, and my information was they used to make the draw in Croke Park that evening, but they weren’t ‘live’ until the Sunday evening.
“But we all had our spies, and I remember going back down on the train, that evening, and hearing about the draw on the way down, that we were playing Roscommon again.
“I was down the end of the carriage and could see some of the players getting news of this too, on their phones, and all clenching their fists. So definitely, after drawing Roscommon again, I felt there wasn’t much need from the manager. And it turned out that way. We had certainly been rehabilitated along the way.”
There is the flip side of the mental coin, however, in that Down, having already beaten Monaghan, can justifiably feel they have the edge. The task for Down manager Eamonn Burns is to get his players to believe it.
“Eamonn Burns I’m sure has his own motivations, and I think the first game like this, after you have lost, are more mental than tactical, or even physical. The teams already know each other so well, so it’s about mental attitude, and for Eamonn Burns the big card he has to play is that ‘lads, you’ve beaten these guys before, you only have to go out and do it again’.
“So both teams are playing the mental game, really. But looking from the outside in, I just think Monaghan are coming in knowing they still have a big game in them, and that should get them over the line.”
Saturday’s game is slightly different in that Down, unlike Roscommon in 2001, are coming in off the back of a defeat. Either way O’Mahony feels it’s advantage Monaghan.
“Galway showed the reverse of all that last Saturday. They were so bad against Roscommon, then went right to the other end of the spectrum against Donegal last weekend. So there are all sorts of tricks of the mind here
“But I remember in 2001 as well the attitude then was you didn’t get a second chance before, had to wait another year previously, so you had to make the best of it. Actually I remember after that Roscommon defeat, in 2001, not knowing we had a second chance at first. Thinking it was only the first round losers. But once we realised there was that second shot we were intent on taking it, and made full use of it as the year went on.”