Ulster SFC final: Donegal and Monaghan set for bruising battle
|Ulster Senior Football Championship final: Donegal v Monaghan|
|Date: Sunday, 19 July Venue: St Tiernach's Park, Clones Throw-in: 14:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Two NI from 13:30 and Radio Ulster MW and the BBC sport website|
Donegal head into the Ulster SFC Final against Monaghan as marginal favourites but the Farney County will fancy their chances of another 2013-style ambush.
Monaghan were big underdogs going into the 2013 Ulster final but produced a display of remarkable intensity to stun the then All-Ireland champions.
Granted, Donegal were a tired outfit in 2013 as evidenced by their humiliation by Mayo a few weeks later.
Donegal laboured to beat Derry last month but get a hesitant vote to win.
Malachy O'Rourke has made two changes from the semi-final win over Fermanagh with Owen Duffy and Stephen Gollogly replacing Kieran Duffy and Owen Lennon in attack while Donegal are unchanged from the Derry game.
The formbook looks impressive for Donegal thus far this season as they came through the decidedly tougher half of the draw by beating Tyrone (1-13 to 1-10), Armagh (2-11 to 0-8) and the Oak Leafers (1-9 to 0-10).
Monaghan's progression to their third successive provincial decider has come by dint of wins over Cavan (0-16 to 0-15) and the Ernemen (1-20 to 0-13).
So on paper, Donegal's campaign looks the more convincing but that perhaps doesn't take into account that they struggled for periods of the game against Tyrone and benefited from some poor Derry finishing three weeks ago.
Granted, Donegal were impressive as they had the Armagh game put to bed by half-time at the Athletic Grounds but for what ever reason, the Orchard men this summer, under Kieran McGeeney, were not a patch on Paul Grimley's 2014 model.
In terms of Sunday's match-ups, the performances of Michael Murphy and Conor McManus could go a long way to deciding the outcome.
McManus will surely be shackled by one of the McGee brothers although gauging who will pick up Murphy is tricky with Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey and Colin Walshe all possible candidates given the expected absence of knee-injury victim Drew Wylie.
Wylie was initially reported to be out for the summer after being injured in a club game but there have been whispers that he could be a surprise participant on Sunday.
If Murphy is subdued to any significant extent, Donegal will surely look to Paddy McBrearty to unlock the Farney defence after his fine displays against Tyrone and Derry.
As ever, the midfield battle should have a major bearing on the game with Donegal hoping that Neil Gallagher can maintain the impressive centre-field work he has put in thus far during the summer.
Malachy O'Rourke may have been tempted to pitch in the combative veteran Dick Clerkin from the start against Gallagher rather than deploying him from the bench after half-time.
To a large extent, Monaghan bullied Donegal in the 2013 provincial decider with Gollogly's early and controversial challenge on Mark McHugh setting the tone for that bruising contest.
McHugh has never quite looked the same player since that day and after opting out of the entire 2014 season, it will be interesting to see whether he starts on Sunday or whether Rory Gallagher opts to retain Martin O'Reilly as sweeper.
In terms of Monaghan's hopes, Malachy O'Rourke will hope that Darren Hughes is able to produce surging runs into the danger zone while his brother Kieran will be expected to give important support to McManus in their attack.
In the build-up to the game, both managers have said that they are expecting a tight contest and that indeed is likely to be the outcome.
However, the presence in the Donegal team of more natural finishers may just decide a close game.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, M McElhinney; C Toye, O MacNiallais, M O'Reilly; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: M McGinley, A Thompson, E Doherty, M McHugh, H McFadden, C McGinley, David Walsh, Declan Walsh, G McFadden, L McLoone, D O'Connor.
Monaghan: R Beggan; D Mone, V Corey, R Wylie; C Walshe, F Kelly, K O'Connell; N McAdam, D Hughes; O Duffy, S Gollogly, S Carey; D Malone, K Hughes, C McManus.