GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Monaghan facing a defining 2020 as they face Dublin at Croke Park
The return of Seamus McEnaney brings with it an air of change within the Farney County
Last Updated: 09/02/20 6:55am
Monaghan travel to Croke Park on Saturday, searching for a third consecutive win over Dublin.
The Farney County have bested the All-Ireland champions in the league twice in as many years. In 2018, they overcame the Sky Blues at HQ in the final round of the group phase, after Jim Gavin's charges were already qualified for the league final.
Twelve months ago, they stunned the Dubs in Clones in the opening round with an impressive comeback performance which saw Conor McManus making full use of the then-experimental mark rule.
That was as good as it got for the Ulster county in 2019. Although they survived in Division 1, it was a swift championship exit with losses to Cavan and Armagh.
Manager Malachy O'Rourke deemed it a natural conclusion to his tenure, and stepped away after a remarkable stint at the helm which included two Ulster titles and a first All-Ireland semi-final berth since 1988.
Indeed, perhaps the shadow of the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final one-point defeat to Tyrone hung over the following season.
So did O'Rourke's departure hail the end of an era? Are they entering a transitional phase?
Banty is back
The return of Seamus McEnaney brings with it an air of change within the county. Returning for a second stint in charge after spending time in Meath and Wexford, 'Banty' knows the county inside-out having worked with much of the younger contingent at minor and U21 level.
Throughout the off-season, Gavin Doogan, Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey all retired from intercounty football. Conor McManus is entering his 14th season as an intercounty footballer, while the clock is ticking for several other senior members of the panel.
The need for an injection of youth is clear, and it's one of McEnaney's primary goals.
Nonetheless, there are young players readily available to make the step up.
David Garland and Micheál Bannigan starred in DCU Dóchas Éireann's Sigerson Cup win, while Aaron Mulligan has been seizing his opportunities having worked under Banty in the county's run to All-Ireland minor semi-final in 2018.
"Garland and Bannigan... they're good guys. They're really good guys. Good attitudes," said DCU boss Paddy Christie in recent weeks.
"I said to some people last year, I felt some of the Monaghan lads on the DCU panel are some of the best players in the country.
"They'll be there or thereabouts. I was surprised they didn't go a bit further last year, and I think they will do well.
"With a new management, with Banty there I'm sure there'll be a bit of a kick-on again."
The Farney County were tipped in several quarters for relegation ahead of the Division 1 campaign, but their opening two games have been full of promise.
They started with a narrow defeat to Galway in Salthill. With so much praise going to Padraic Joyce's men in maroon, it was perhaps the away side who were unlucky not to dig out a draw at Pearse Stadium.
Nonetheless, they bounced back with a four-point win over neighbours Tyrone in Castleblayney in round two, to lift themselves to fourth in the table and breathe fire into their campaign.
To secure survival, home games against Mayo and Meath in the coming weeks look like matches they'll target, but within the camp they'll be aiming for more.
They won't be writing off any fixture.
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Saturday's assignment is their first trip to HQ since that 2018 All-Ireland semi-final defeat.
Can they ask questions of a Dublin team that has already found its feet under Dessie Farrell? The Sky Blues backed up their draw at home to Kerry with an away win over Mayo, showing they're hitting the ground running in 2020.
Victories over the men from the capital in the last two years will have boosted confidence in the Farney County, but they still head to Jones' Road as rank outsiders.
Can they back it up, and deal Farrell with his first significant setback as Dublin senior boss?
It's a tall order, but a third consecutive win over Dublin would lift any pressure off Banty for the remainder of the league, and dispel any notion that the county are set to wallow in the doldrums for the coming year.