Monaghan take on Cavan later this evening at Kingspan Breffni Park in the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final.
Malachy O’Rourke’s charges go into the game as strong favourites and have named an experienced starting XV, plenty of whom made a telling impact on their run to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
As is so often the case, the Farney County will be backboned by All-Star goalkeeper, Rory Beggan, and full-forward talisman, Conor McManus. If they are going to come out with a win they will need their star commodities to stand-up.
Stephen O’Hanlon gets the nod at left corner-forward in what will be his championship debut. O’Hanlon made a telling impact on the opening day of the league season playing a pivotal part in both of Monaghan’s goals as they took down Dublin in Clones.
Whether O’Hanlon can recreate that form, not only in the white heat of championship but in their old enemy’s back yard, is yet to be determined but he has a fantastic network beside him in the shape of McManus and Ryan McAnespie.
Cavan, on the other hand, come into the game as underdogs having been relegated from Division 1 earlier this year, however, the mood around the Breffni County is one of quiet optimism.
With Raymond Galligan in goals, they have a smooth operator who is built in the same mode as his opposite number, Beggan. Galligan’s distribution, as well as his contribution from dead balls, could be key to the outcome of this game.
Up front, Dara McVeety will be crucial for Cavan at centre-forward and Mickey Graham will be hoping that he can provide the relevant supply that Oisin Kiernan, who makes his return to championship action following a battle with cancer, Thomas Galligan and Conor Madden up front need.
Galligan makes his first championship start for the Breffni County at full-forward and it will be interesting to see what impact he can make. He made a huge splash in Ulster GAA circles four years ago when he was the lynchpin for St. Patrick’s Cavan as they brought the curtain down on a 43-year famine by collecting the MacRory Cup.
Cavan are underdogs but they won’t shy away from their rivals, especially in front of a strong home support. Graham’s success with Mullinalaghta has proven his worth as a manager and this evening will go a long way towards determining whether he can replicate that success with his native county.
Where the game will be won and lost, however, is at midfield.
Monaghan have named an experience centre-field due in Fintan Kelly and Kieran Hughes, however, neither has huge championship experience at midfield nor have they played there together much. Will they be able to gel sufficiently, not just with each other but with Beggan? Given their experience and the fact that Beggan and Hughes are club mates you would expect them too.
Darren Hughes is a huge loss for Monaghan but Niall Kearns’ return to the bench following heart surgery is heartwarming, to say the least. He could well have a say in the outcome of this encounter.
Conor Brady is a championship debutant at midfield for Cavan, however, in Gearoid McKiernan alongside him he has Cavan’s best player. McKiernan has the potential to light up Breffni Park this evening, he has done so in the past.
If McKiernan can make a telling impact early on and Cavan’s full-forward line can get the right supply into them then they could well pull off a huge scalp this evening.
Cavan didn’t target the league. Given Graham’s involvement with Mullinalaghta throughout the first half of the campaign, their focus has always been this game.
The Breffni men could well peak at the right time this evening and an Ulster Championship ambush might well be on the cards.
Prediction: Cavan by two points.