Now or never for Monaghan, who could do with McManus cameo

Mental block certain counties have is irrational, stupid, superstitious and very real

The presumed absence of Conor McManus (above) has a part to play, obviously. Though he looks certain to appear at some stage, Monaghan are plainly a reduced force without him. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

There is a definite sense of now or never for Monaghan here.

The mental block certain counties have when it comes to certain other counties is irrational and stupid and superstitious and it is very, very real.

Monaghan haven't beaten Tyrone in the Championship since 1988 and have been shown the door by them in Ulster or in Croke Park in three of the last four seasons. There comes a time.

If Down hadn’t fouled Seán Cavanagh at the death in Omagh four weeks ago, Monaghan would be favourites tomorrow. Ulster champions, playing in Clones where they’ve won 15 games in a row in league and championship going back to 2011. Yet they’re 6/4 underdogs.

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Reduced force

The presumed absence of Conor McManus has a part to play, obviously. Though he looks certain to appear at some stage, Monaghan are plainly a reduced force without him.

Jack McCarron has been the coming man for a couple of seasons now and won't lack in confidence but he's not as safe a bet as last year's All Star corner-forward. Sink or swim time.

There is no particular mystery in what either side will face here. Defences will be packed, handpasses will be many, shots will be hurried. Tyrone arrive across the border with a team selection that seems unusually scattergun for Mickey Harte.

This will be their third game of the summer and already he has named 23 different starters. Only six players have started and finished both games.

Devastating on paper

It’s hard to know if he’s hit on his best line-up here. The inside line of Darren McCurry, Stephen O’Neill and Ronan O’Neill looks pretty devastating on paper but given how difficult Monaghan will make it to breach their bank of bodies around the middle third, it’s not hard to see them starved of ball.

One area where Tyrone do look to have a step on the home side is their half-back line, where the wit and guile of Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte could force the young Monaghan half-forwards Paudie McKenna and Pádraig Donaghy into more defending than they'd like.

Both sides could feasibly end up with better teams on the pitch at the end than at the start here, which makes a prediction even more difficult. On the basis that McManus might be around for 15 minutes at the finish once the game has opened up, we’ll go for Monaghan.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times