Are Monaghan All-Ireland contenders and do counties take them seriously?

We speak to Dick Clerkin about Monaghan's chances in the All-Ireland series and whether or not they can be considered true contenders

BY Cian Roche 18:35 Thursday 30 March 2017, 18:35 30 Mar 2017

Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

It took two attempts for Donegal to vanquish Monaghan in last year's Ulster Championship.

Three late frees from Conor McManus saved the defending champions and forced a replay which would be contested with the same feverish tempo as the first.

Donegal prevailed by the narrowest of margins and awaited the winner of Tyrone and Cavan in the Championship's other semi-final replay.

Next to the qualifiers, where many expected Monaghan to get back on their feet and build some momentum for a real tilt at the All-Ireland series.

Longford produced probably the shock of the campaign when they stunned Malachy O'Rourke's side with a 2-13 to 1-13 win in Clones.

Goals from Mickey Quinn and Robbie Smyth brought Monaghan's bid of a successful run in the qualifiers to a shuddering halt at St Tiernach’s Park.

"I think the outlier would have been that Longford game as opposed to it being a wake-up call or that there’s a problem," former Monaghan footballer Dick Clerkin tells Newstalk.com.

"They haven’t changed their style of play significantly, but they’ve come into the League very fit and fresh looking. The panel appear to be in a very strong place at the minute.

"I’m not sure they would have learned an awful lot [from the defeat], because a lot of their play and their style of play has been quite similar. They have been very consistent over the last number of years."

And so, there was no great period of reflection. A blip in the record, that was all. Clerkin explains: "There wouldn’t have been a collective post-mortem after last season because it’s of limited benefit when you have such a long period to go before the start of the League season.

"There was obviously a huge amount of disappointment after the game.

"Collectively they might have looked at the Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal and Longford and may have even looked at the drawn game. The drawn game they would have looked at and thought that was a game they should have won.

"They would have recognised that we need more scoring power and another attacking outlet, because in all of those, something extra offensively may have brought them over the line."

And so far this year, Monaghan seemed to have found just that.

Up to this point, they've recorded narrow wins over last year's All-Ireland finalists, Mayo, and last year's semi-finalists, Kerry - two teams that pushed Dublin to the pin of their collar.

Not only that, they've registered 13 individual scorers in their League campaign and have managed to average almost 14 points per game (13.667) over the course of their six games.

Clerkin explains that competing at the top level required finding more fire-power from all sides of the pitch.

"In the Longford game, Monaghan would have gotten themselves into a decent position but they didn’t push on and put Longford to bed.

"They allowed them to get back into the game. There’s probably a general recognition that another attacking outlet is required if they are going to take the next step.

"They have unearthed a few extra players in the form of Jack McCarron and Dessie Ward. They’ve been able to give them a little something extra up front.

"I think they recognised that there was a need for an extra scoring outlet - I think everyone sort of knew that and that would have been the one criticism and area of improvement made at Monaghan.

"They were overly dependent on Conor McManus, so they needed to find something extra in the scoring stakes. That was probably going to happen anyway with Jack getting back to fitness."

Jack McCarron's return to the side has been a revelation for Monaghan and has helped to ease some of the pressure on Conor McManus. Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

O'Rourke's side have only dropped points against sides from Ulster this year and says that with a reinvigorated Donegal side and the emergence of Tyrone, the Ulster Championship is set to return to its very best.

"I would have thought with Donegal it would have been hugely difficult to bridge the gap left by all of those experienced players. Early signs are that they’re doing quite well in that regard.

"I’ve no reason to think why that won’t translate into the Championship, because whatever about their League performances, they’re a very Championship focused team. I would imagine they’re already switching their sights to it.

"Tyrone will want to retain their title and Monaghan will be vying to get it back.

"The teams coming behind, Cavan, Armagh, will all fancy their chances. It’s probably going to be one of the most competitive Ulster Championships you will have ever seen. You’ve the top three showing signs of improvement.

"This could turn out to be a hugely competitive Championship and don’t be surprised if there’s a few big shocks along the way."

The trouble with Monaghan seems to be that while these teams around them have All-Ireland crowns to their name, Monaghan have still yet to clinch one of their own.

"I would note that when people talk about the top five teams that can compete for an All-Ireland, they frequently leave Monaghan out.

"There’s still that question mark, whether they can go that next step. We essentially haven’t gone beyond the quarter-final stage. I would say that’s unfair, it’s not that we’re not good enough, but when we came to that stage different things transpired against us.

"We’ve been very consistent as a Division 1 team and at Ulster Championship level to talk about us in those brackets. Most people don’t and there probably still is that element of people not fully recognising what Monaghan can bring.

"Possibly Kerry, Mayo and Dublin all don’t recognise Monaghan the way that they should be.

"We have proven that we are consistently as good as the best that’s out there. This League again has proven that.

"To prove it fully, they’ll have to start doing it at the latter end of the Championship season."

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