Plenty of interesting games this weekend. Tyrone and Monaghan make their summer bow at Healy Park in a repeat of last year’s Ulster Final. Monaghan came into that game with high hopes on the back of high scoring wins over Fermanagh and Armagh. They were extremely well supported in the market, no bigger than 5/4 when David Coldrick threw-in at Clones.
What followed was an enormous disappointment to the Farney as they were comfortably beaten while registering a pitifully low tally of 0-7. What was set to be the glory day of Banty McEneaney’s reign at Monaghan ended in dejection. A four-point defeat to Kildare six days later ended Monaghan’s summer. And with the eventual departure of their manager, a memorable chapter in Monaghan football met a dissonant cadence.
It hasn’t been easy picking up the pieces since. Damien Freeman retired and Tommy Freeman emigrated, as did Rory Woods. Kieran Hughes picked up a long-term injury, while the queue out the treatment room door for less serious twinges, tweaks and strains does little to boost confidence.
A team that in optimal condition was ten points off Tyrone last summer now faces them with what can at best be called serious gaps in personnel. 5/4 to beat Tyrone last year, 11/4 this year is perhaps the most telling indicator of how this transitional Monaghan team ranks in the minds of the betting industry and its ever knowledgeable clients.
What of Tyrone? Ulster champions in three of the last four years, and All-Ireland winners the other, yet always the doubts that battle-weariness has infested Mickey Harte’s side. They may have been on the road longer than Forrest Gump, but they still have enough in them to win this home fixture and cover the three-point spread at 10/11.
While his former troops put Tyrone to the test, Banty’s new platoon Meath get their Leinster campaign underway against Kildare at Croke Park. We make Kildare 4/7 favourites, offer 15/2 the draw and its 7/4 Meath.
It’s very hard to know what to expect from Meath and just as Seamus McEneaney stunned the GAA world by putting Darren Hughes in goal last season, he has done it again by calling the seemingly retired Graham Geraghty in to the panel. Whether it’s the act of a genius or a madman only simplistic hindsight will tell, but there is no doubt that it is a poor reflection on the current crop of Meath’s forwards that such a measure was taken.
Kildare have had an unfair share of serious knee injuries, and reshuffled in their win over Wicklow to the extent that one of the game’s great forwards John Doyle was drafted in to midfield. There’s still plenty of attacking threat in the Kildare team; Alan Smith and James Kavanagh will test any defence. The problem with Kildare is their lack of efficiency in converting chances to scores. They will either become less profligate or pay dearly for it this season.