Monaghan manager Arthur Hughes patrols the turf in Croke Park before the Lory Meagher Cup final between Monaghan and Lancashire yesterday.
Monaghan manager Arthur Hughes patrols the turf in Croke Park before the Lory Meagher Cup final between Monaghan and Lancashire yesterday.

Hughes excited about Monaghan's potential

By Kevin Egan

While Meath and Wicklow were ‘pillar to post’ winners of the Christy Ring and Nickey Rackard hurling championships, the 2023 Lory Meagher Cup was a very different competition, where it was a brave pundit who would have picked the winner at any stage of the competition.

Bottom of the table Warwickshire started off with a win, and when the group stages were completed, just two points separated Monaghan, on top of the table, from Leitrim, who finished fifth.

Monaghan’s place on top of the table wasn’t decided until the last round of games, and it was all a far cry from the Farney men’s slow start in the competition, when they kicked things off with a home draw against Leitrim, and then lost out by three points a week later just down the road in Kingspan Breffni against their neighbours.

“We were scratching our heads coming out of Clontibret that day after playing Leitrim,” said Monaghan manager Arthur Hughes after his side’s 3-22 to 3-20 win over Lancashire in Croke Park yesterday.

“We let a seven-point lead slip in injury time and I never thought we would make it here, but this was always the target. It was the target last year, but things went against us and we didn’t make it. This year it was work hard to get here and then hard work when we were here, but thank God we got out the right side of it”.

Unlike the other two finals in Croke Park yesterday, where each game saw one side, and then the other, gain the upper hand for long stretches, Monaghan’s battle with Lancashire was nothing like that. There was never a period where either side was dominant, or when the game looked like a done deal for either team. Good stuff for supporters, but not so much for men like Hughes, who had a nervous time of it on the sideline.

“It was a very worrying coming in to the game because we hadn’t got up to match speed. In fairness the boys started off strong, before Lancashire came in to it more in the second half and at the end of the first half.

“There was a spell in the game where it looked like it was getting away from us. Not on the scoreboard but the game was slipping away from us. I remember looking up at the scoreboard and it was 20 points to 17 in favour of Lancashire, then Niall Garland got the ball in hand and stuck it in the net, it was a big lift for us at the right time.”

Garland, and his half-forward colleague Niall Arthur, had been the team’s main scoring threats all year long, but on a day when every starting Monaghan forward scored at least two points from play, Hughes felt that it was his team’s ability to score from different positions that carried them through the final.

“Niall (Garland) and these boys know there will be a target on their back and they are going to be man marked. If you have only one marquee forward then you are in trouble but we have a spread of boys who can score constantly. Stevie Lambe put in a serious shift as well, which was brilliant. Everyone contributes. The free taker gets the glory because he gets nine or 10 points, but boys have to win the frees and get the ball up the other end of the field and obviously goalies and backs have to keep it out of the net,” he said.

With that result secured, the focus in Monaghan now turns to today’s home tie against Clare in the All-Ireland series, where Hughes wants to see the county continue to share their focus across both sports, to maximise the return on both the hurling and the football front.

“Monaghan are on a bit of a crest of a wave, though they have lost two finals there between the minor hurlers and the minor footballers,” he said.

“I suppose one out of three is not bad, we are not too far away. This group can only do our bit and thankfully we have got over the line.

“The county has backed us all along and we knew we had a lot of boxes ticked, but we still had to perform on the big day and thankfully we did."