Monaghan won’t be able to stay with the high tempo set by Donegal
The step up in class will prove too much, while London will be out of their depth against Mayo
Jim McGuinness will be delighted to get Karl Lacey back for his Donegal side. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Monaghan go into tomorrow’s Ulster final not having been overly impressive against Antrim and Cavan to date. They play to a system that’s not unlike Donegal’s and have presumably paid close attention to how Down set up similarly gave Donegal a good run for their money in the semi-final.
Kieran Duffy played as a sweeper against Cavan. The system worked well but prioritises high work rate, breaking quickly after the turnover and injecting pace into the attack. The problem was that unlike Donegal, they were very wasteful in attack.
Tomorrow they’re going to need to really raise the conversion rate because Donegal’s defensive wall will make it very hard for them to get clear-cut chances and they’re going to have to take an awful lot more of them to stay in the game.
We’ll see a tremendous effort from Monaghan but I think it’s going to be like last week when Meath played Dublin: a Division Three team which will find it hard to compete for a full 70 minutes with opposition used to playing at a higher level of pace, intensity and physicality and able to create opportunities.
I could see Monaghan staying with them for three-quarters or so of the match but eventually the power running of Donegal will takes its toll on a team not used to coping with such a high tempo.
That’s allowing for the fact that Donegal haven’t so far reached the highs of last year and you wonder is all of this high-energy football beginning to take its toll, particularly when you consider the absence of key players with injury at various stages.
In that context Jim McGuinness will be very happy to get Karl Lacey finally back in action, as he’s been a serious loss so far but generally I’d still be concerned that the quality at their disposal drops sharply when you go beyond the first 15 and they lack the depth in their panel that Kerry, Dublin or Mayo have.
As well as winning a three-in-a-row in Ulster, which would be a fantastic achievement for the county, Donegal also have the motivation of needing fewer fixtures given the demands on the bodies of the same players – training, matches and recovery periods – for the past two and a half years.
They remain very dependent on Murphy and McFadden for getting scores and Monaghan will of course drop extra players back to hold the fort. McFadden is a tremendous score taker and keeping the ball away from him is paramount and I think Colin Walshe, who I thought was excellent in the semi-final, may be given the man-marking job.
When Monaghan hit the defensive wall put up by the McGees they’ll find it very difficult to get scores and I think will do well to get around 12 points.
In their favour they kept Cavan scoreless for the entire second half, which reflects well on their defensive system and gives them confidence but this will be a whole, new level.
Connacht gives us an unique occasion and it’s terrific recognition for London and the efforts being made to promote the GAA there. Having had to travel in most cases for work purposes they now find themselves in a provincial final even if they’ll surely be out of their depth.
It’s not ideal preparation for Mayo going into an All-Ireland quarter-final but it has allowed James Horan the opportunity to sort out injuries and it will be good for Andy Moran to get a start under his belt.
This could be competitive for a while, as London have some useful players. Stephen Curran at full back is a fine player and was unlucky to have to travel when he was close to getting a Kerry call-up. One of the corner backs Philip Butler was born and bred there and getting more native players involved can only be good for the GAA in the long term.
This has been a really historic year for them and I hope it doesn’t end too disappointingly.
In the big qualifier, I’ve had a fancy for Tyrone since the league final and believe if they get back to Croke Park they’ll be contenders but this is a hard fixture. Kildare’s record in the qualifiers is formidable and Tyrone struggled against Roscommon while Mickey Harte’s efforts to revamp the team haven’t been working terribly well.
Stephen O’Neill is back, which will improve the attack although there is a nagging suspicion that some of the players have been on the road for a fair few miles at this stage.
Home venue is definitely an advantage for Kildare but I don’t think Tyrone will be inhibited, as they’ve already won in Newbridge this year. The home team’s familiar problem of not taking their scores s is still there. If there’s an improvement in that area this will be a real challenge but Tyrone are ultimately smarter and will advance.
In the other matches I’m taking a free scoring Armagh to end Galway’s run and believe home advantage can maintain Derry’s momentum against Cavan. Finally Laois have begun to find some form and can come through a difficult trip to Wexford.