Monaghan still at a different level to Down
The best Down can hope for is a more respectable defeat than in Clones 12 months ago
Conor McManus has looked sharp and in good fettle with two goals to his name already
Ulster SFC semi-final
Monaghan v Down, Athletic Grounds, Armagh, Saturday, 7.0
Last year’s meeting between the counties was the nadir of Down’s two-year journey into darkness that was only lifted earlier this spring - a 19-point walloping.
While acknowledging that Eamonn Burns has done well to turn things around by avoiding relegation in the league and then registering a first championship win in four years, the best Down can hope for here is a more respectable defeat than in Clones 12 months ago.
Monaghan have beaten Fermanagh and Cavan to get this far and in neither case did it appear that they were in top gear. Under Malachy O’Rourke they have been a consistent Division One outfit, competitive and well organised.
They nearly got suckered for a draw in the quarter-final when Cavan hit the post but had been the better team.
Last summer, before committing to another year, O’Rourke was careful to emphasise that after a humdrum championship by their standards - culminating in qualifier elimination by Longford - Monaghan would need to raise their efforts to an even higher level, which has showed so far in terms of physical and athletic prowess added to a good bank of experience at this stage.
Conor McManus has looked sharp and in good fettle with two goals to his name already but Jack McCarron, a revelation or at least a welcome revenant during the league campaign, has found scores harder come by in the championship.
Down recovered well, with Darren O’Hagan and Kevin McKernan excellent in effectively launching a shutout in the second half. But it wouldn’t be hard to see Monaghan going for a full-court press in the early stages of Saturday evening in the fairly secure assumption that if they strike for goals their opponents aren’t really built effectively to chase down a match.
If Monaghan get a hint of vulnerability they can be devastating, as Fermanagh learned when on the receiving end of a 10-point salvo in the third quarter of the first round.
Down really need to keep a lid on the match until they work it out. Despite their methodical start against Armagh, the latter got two goals in the first half, which might have been four. Monaghan won’t be that obliging.
Last meeting: 2016 Ulster quarter-final, Clones, Monaghan 2-22, Down 0-9
Odds: Monaghan 2/9, Down 9/2, Draw 10/1.
Just the ticket: If pre-purchased - Stand €25/£22, terrace €15/£13, juveniles €5/£5. Concessions available only from clubs and county boards. On the day - Stand €30/£25, terrace €18/£15.