History beckons for special group of Donegal players

History beckons for special group of Donegal players
“Could you get Jim to pick the same team for Sunday next as he had for the Dr. McKenna Cup fixture in Ballybofey in January?”

“Could you get Jim to pick the same team for Sunday next as he had for the Dr. McKenna Cup fixture in Ballybofey in January?”

Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke was in jovial mood ahead of the Ulster final on Sunday next when he will be hoping to stop Donegal creating another piece of history - winning a first ever three-in-a-row for the county.

Judging by the Monaghan responses at the recent Ulster final press day in Clones, it was clear that they know that they have an uphill battle, but it was also clear that they feel it could be a last chance saloon for many of their more experienced players like Eoin Lennon, Vinny Corey, Paul Finlay and Tommy Freeman.

It has not been a vintage Ulster championship this year. Donegal’s win over Tyrone set the benchmark, but apart from an open encounter between Derry and Down in Celtic Park, there hasn’t been much to enthuse.

Monaghan have made use of the easier side of the draw, accounting for Antrim and then struggling to overcome neighbours Cavan in the semi-final

While their semi-final win seemed to be a dire affair, it would be wise not to read too much into it.

Games between Monaghan and Cavan take on a life of their own. There are stories that some of the Monaghan support who made special efforts to be in Clones for that semi-final will not even be at the Ulster final on Sunday next. But they would not miss the clash with Cavan.

Back when Cavan last won the Ulster title in 1997, all the roads leading to Monaghan were daubed on the Sunday evening, ‘Monaghan for Mushrooms; Cavan for the Sam’!

“To beat Cavan by just one point in a game that they should have won. That’s special,” said one well known Monaghan supporter.

But even the most dyed in the wool Monaghan supporters are very short in confidence when it comes to meeting Donegal.

If recent history were a factor then the Farney men would be much more upbeat.

Two years in succession - 2007 and 2008 - they knocked Donegal out in the Qualifiers, in Omagh and Ballybofey respectively.

When Donegal overcame Down in 1995 in Clones, Monaghan came to Ballybofey in the next round and dumped Donegal out, and even back when Donegal were going well in 1985, they were given a lesson by Monaghan on a sunny Sunday in Castleblaney. That year Monaghan went on to win the first Ulster title, one of three they won between 1979 and 1988.

But apart from that period, Monaghan have had more disappointments that triumphs. Their other 13 Ulster triumphs came before the Second World War!

They did, however, threaten in Ulster during the new millennium, running Tyrone close in 2006 when Tommy Freeman was at his best and Eoin Lennon and Vinny Corey and the Mones were backboning a side that threatened to make the breakthrough.

When Donegal and Monaghan met in the Dr. McKenna Cup in Ballybofey in January, the make-up of the sides goes a long way to explaining how the respective managers viewed the season ahead.

Donegal fielded a largely U-21 side with U-21 manager Maxi Curran in charge and Jim McGuinness looking on from the sanctuary of the Press Box.

Malachy O’Rourke, trying to set out his stall, had his best available side on the field including the likes of Eoin Lennon, Dessie Mone, the Hughes and Conor McManus. O’Rourke wanted to hit the ground running in order to challenge for promotion from Division Three.

Jim McGuinness wanted to look at what the second string in Donegal shaped up and if he could unearth some new talent for his one and only goal - the Ulster senior championship.

The result of the match - Donegal 1-5, Monaghan 3-16.

No wonder Malachy O’Rourke wanted Donegal to field the same team on Sunday next!

Monaghan went on to achieve their number one goal, promotion from Division Three.

They now have the chance to bridge a 25 year gap and get their hands on the Anglo Celt.

They must be respected, especially as they are playing at home, but one would feel that Donegal, even without Neil Gallagher (who must be extremely doubtful) should be good enough to carry out the plan concocted by Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher.

Donegal are now a very experienced side and as they showed against Down, they remain calm when things might not be just going as they planned.

They were able to respond to whatever Down came up with and you would feel that they have enough leaders on the field now to do that again. That would give them easy route to the next goal - a place in the last eight.