The last thing Séamus McEnaney said after Monaghan lost to Derry in the Ulster football semi-final was that he felt his team was still good enough to match anyone in the country. He’s about to find out.
Drawn against Mayo, arguably the second-best team in the country - this year’s beaten league finalists, last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists - Monaghan must also travel to Castlebar for the first round of the football qualifiers on Saturday week, June 4th.
In Monday’s open draw, with the first team out getting home advantage, the four division one teams among the eight in contention were drawn against each other, All-Ireland champions Tyrone also facing a difficult task for survival away to Armagh, who beat them in the league after a heated battle back on February 6th, a game which produced five red cards.
That showdown is the standalone football qualifier fixture on Sunday June 5th, with a 1.30pm throw-in at the Athletic Grounds. Both those headline games are live on TV with Mayo and Monaghan on Sky and Armagh against Tyrone on RTE.
In the other two pairings, Clare will be at home to Meath and Cork will host Louth. The winners of all four fixtures will be decided on the day with penalties if required.
Despite being amply warned of Derry’s potential, who properly and not undeservedly stunned Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final, Monaghan failed to live up to expectations in the semi-final, losing 3-12 to 0-17 and shooting 11 wides in total.
“I think we can still have a big say in this championship,” McEnaney said in the aftermath of that game. “We’ve a good enough team to match anyone in the country, and whoever comes to us we’ll take it.”
Mayo lost to Galway by a single point in the Connacht quarter-final, scoring 0-16 to Galway’s 1-14, although they did beat Monaghan in the league in the second-round match in Clones on February 6th, winning 2-10 to 0-11. In the 76th minute, Paddy Durcan pulled off a goal-line save to prevent Monaghan from stealing the win.
After being forced to play their Munster semi-final against Kerry in Páirc Uí Rinn due to the unavailability of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, losing 0-23 to 0-11, Cork will be back in the bigger stadium for the visit of Louth, Mickey Harte’s team losing to Kildare in the Leinster quarter-final 2-11 to 0-12.
In the other game, Meath travel to Ennis hoping to keep their summer alive after losing to Dublin 1-27 to 1-14. Clare lost to Limerick on penalties in the first round of the Munster championship. In round two of the qualifiers, scheduled for the weekend of June 11/12th, the four successful teams from round one will be play off against the four beaten provincial finalists. An open draw shall be made to determine the pairings.
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round 1
Saturday June 4th
Clare v Meath, Cusack Park, 5pm (GAAGO); Mayo v Monaghan, Castlebar, 4pm (Sky); Cork v Louth, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 2pm (GAAGO)
Sunday June 5th
Armagh v Tyrone, Athletic Grounds, 1.30pm (RTE)