herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Farney to shade a war of attrition

Conor McManus
Conor McManus

There are several powerful arguments in support of a Farney Army celebration at Headquarters today.

They include the virtually invincible record of recent provincial champions at the last-eight stage since: 17 of the last 18 have survived this hurdle.

There's the sense that, two years on from the giddiness of 2013, Monaghan will bring a steely-eyed focus to HQ.

They also have gone some way to banishing the notion of a Red Hand Indian sign, having won an Ulster cliffhanger by 1-12 to 0-14 last summer and followed up with a comfortable league success this year.

Compelling

Verdict Monaghan? Not so trigger-happy. You'll find an equally compelling list of reasons to tip Tyrone. They have the momentum generated by four qualifier victories. And they generally back themselves against Monaghan.

As for the only 'back door' team to buck the above provincial champion trend? That was Tyrone in 2013, when they took out ... Monaghan, in a quarter-final forever associated with Seán Cavanagh's rugby-tackle on Conor McManus and the media furore it generated.

The big question now is are Monaghan better prepared to make the last-four leap? One senses they are, albeit they are just as reliant on McManus's scoring prowess.

They have the benefit of a shrewd tactician in Malachy O'Rourke. But then ditto Tyrone in Mickey Harte. His reputation as the canniest of them all may have taken several hits in recent seasons, but Tyrone have recovered from the double-whammy of top-flight relegation and that close-but-no-cigar Donegal defeat in Ballybofey last May.

This observer was in Omagh for their second round qualifier against Meath. Even in narrow victory, our instinctive reaction was to scrub Tyrone's list from the list of even All-Ireland outsiders.

Yet, just a week later against an admittedly wilting Tipperary, they looked a team transformed. Their collective energy, movement and support play jumped out from the screen, while the individual form of their key men (Peter Harte especially, Seán Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly in the second half) was another positive augury.

Enough reason to back a mild surprise here? Not quite: Tyrone have seen off four teams from outside the top division, but Monaghan are a step-up and we're sticking with them to edge a battle that will be part chess game, part war of attrition.

Odds: Monaghan 4/5, Draw 7/1, Tyrone 6/4 Verdict: Monaghan

Monaghan v Tyrone, Croke Pk, today 4.0, Live Sky Sports 5

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