No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: Armagh have revived, but Monaghan won’t be caught cold again

Rory Grugan, Armagh, kicks a point from a free in the last seconds to equalise the game and send it to a replay.

Rory Grugan, Armagh, kicks a point from a free in the last seconds to equalise the game and send it to a replay.

I MET Jim McGuinness after the Armagh-Monaghan minor game in Clones last Saturday.

We were saying how everyone was expecting a Donegal-Monaghan double in the Ulster final, but how a Donegal-Armagh pairing in both minor and senior finals is still on the cards now.

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I thought it was a cracking game last weekend between them and it’s great to see them get a second bite.

The standard mightn’t have been top drawer, but it was a fascinating, tactical battle right the way through the game with the way the two sides were set up. You really have to hand it to Armagh for the way they ground it out to get a draw. They came back strong at three points down to come back and claim a draw.

The Monaghan defence had looked very good in previous games, but the pace of Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell caused them no end of trouble.

On the balance of play, Monaghan were edging it, but Armagh came back superbly.

You must remember that Armagh were down Andy Mallon, Kieran Toner and Brendan Donaghy who were all suspended and they’ll come back in for this weekend’s replay.

In normal circumstances you’d maybe say that the power has shifted to Armagh when you consider they have those lads back – but I still fancy Monaghan to get through it.

Malachy O’Rourke is a very shrewd manager and I think Armagh might have caught them on the hop a bit. I don’t expect that to happen to them for a second weekend.

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It will be another ferocious tactical battle and it’s difficult to call, but I do think Monaghan will get through it.

It was sort of strange to be leaving the ground and to hear Armagh supporters giving out about the referee, Joe McQuillan. You wonder how the referees can win at times!

Talk of a revival in Armagh might be premature, but there are promising signs. They played well against Cavan and they have to be praised for last weekend’s comeback. Paul Grimley’s job is on the line here too. With Kieran McGeeney waiting in the wings to take over, Paul must be looking over his shoulder. Come Championship Armagh were always capable of going up a few levels and they can do that again, but I don’t think Monaghan will be caught again.

In any sport, you can’t take anything for granted. We saw this week when Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were knocked out of Wimbledon when they weren’t on top of their game. Once that happens, the second chance is gone.

We talk a lot about place kickers in Gaelic football and, for me, Rory Beggan is up there at the very top. His kicking is impeccable. He barely connects with the ball. It seems so effortless and it’s something that isn’t taught. It’s pure natural what he has. Beggan was the top scorer in the game last week with five points.

I hear people giving out about goalkeepers coming up to take frees, but if you have a man who can kick points like that it doesn’t matter a jot where he plays on the field. When Rory Beggan steps up, you know that, nine times out of ten, he’ll convert. That is quite something to have in your team.

There is something else at play – the losers this weekend end up playing Tyrone next weekend in the qualifiers!

Defeat this weekend and the championship future of both will be dangling by the thinnest of threads. The stakes are extremely high.

It’s interesting also to see the replay being played back in Clones again, Monaghan’s home ground. There’s a lot of talk about Dublin and the advantage they have of playing at Croke Park every week.

If Donegal played all the Championship games in Ballybofey you’d expect that to make a difference. In those games of the small inches, the home advantage is absolutely massive. We see the drive and power the Hill 16 crowd and the Croke Park familiarity can give Dublin and the same must be true of Monaghan. They know every in and out of the pitch and I do think that the replay could have gone to the Athletic Grounds, which is a fine venue too.

Minor matters

I WAS an interested spectator in Clones, mainly to have a look at the minor game between Monaghan and Armagh.

Both teams set up very defensively, but it was a good game between the sides.

Monaghan set up that way to play Tyrone and seemed to find it hard to change their set-up against Armagh.

Monaghan went ahead early in the second half, but Conor Grimley’s goal for Armagh was the big turning point in the game. That was the crucial score in the game and Armagh deserved the win. They are well set up and well organised – and they’ll take some stopping by us in the final.

We know all about them from the day we played them in the Minor League semi-final at O’Donnell Park. They gave us a big run for our money that day. They have a number of top players and they’ll present a lot of challenges for us that we’ll need to be ready for. All year that semi-final is as tough a game as we’ve had so complacency certainly won’t be an issue for us.

Our preparations are going well and it was good to see our opponents in the flesh last weekend.
The lads are all looking forward to the game.

I want to pay tribute to the Northern and Southern Boards, who I met with last week in relation to minor club fixtures. It was good to meet them in a gathering chaired by Mick McGrath, the Children’s Officer. Both Boards were reasonable and understanding and it’s important that everyone works together.

This is a very successful period for Donegal at senior and minor level and it’s important that the players have a chance to make the most of it.

On that note I want to thank Enda Nichols in Arena 7 for sponsoring an evening for the lads on Thursday night. That support is very welcomed by all of us.

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