Banty's comeback and Tyrone and Down input fuelling Monaghan for 2020

Star midfielder Darren Hughes says the Farney set-up has been ‘invigorated’ after a disappointing 2019.

Star midfielder Darren Hughes at yesterday's Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 media event.
Star midfielder Darren Hughes at yesterday's Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 media event.

STAR MONAGHAN MIDFIELDER Darren Hughes says the return of Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney and his new backroom team have “invigorated” the Farney county. 

McEnaney is at the helm for his second stint in charge, after previously holding the position between 2004 and 2010, and Hughes is pleased to have the man who brought him into the panel in 2006 back on board. 

“We go back a long way,” the Scotstown player, who made his championship debut in 2007, notes. “He’s back now and has really invigorated the whole thing.

“We knew what we’d be getting with him. He has a very good backroom team with him too and we’ve gotten off to a pretty decent start.

“He does a lot of good stuff behind the scenes. He’s always trying to get the best of the best to do their best for the players. He strives for that sort of perfection.

“He’s always on the look-out for various things outside of matchdays and trying to get everything in line and make sure that all the boxes are ticked. He does a lot from that point of view.

“When he was going for the job, he was obviously focusing on getting a good coaching team and did a great job getting Pete Donnelly, Conor Laverty, and David McCague in to his coaching set-up. They’ve all blended in pretty well so far.”

Highly-regarded strength and conditioning coach Donnelly came to Monaghan from Tyrone, where he operated from 2015, and he balances his new inter-county commitments with work at Ulster Rugby. 

Hughes, who turns 33 on Friday, is pleased with the new addition. 

“He’s very good,” he offers. “The three coaches are all working very well with each other. Pete is more in control of the S&C and doing some things on the pitch as well.

“I would have known Pete before from playing with him in Jordanstown so I knew what he was going to bring to the table. He was highly reputable in his own county of Tyrone and throughout Ulster so it was great for ourselves to get him.”

The aforementioned Laverty, former Down footballer and current Kilcoo star, is a playing peer of Hughes’, although he didn’t know him personally before he joined Banty’s set-up. 

“I would have played against him with Kilcoo and Down over the years and knew the type of player he was,” he adds on his counter-attacking style. “He brings that style to his coaching game too. The lads are all working very well with each other.”

While Hughes notes that 2019 was a disappointing one for the side, he pays tribute to the colossal work Malachy O’Rourke did for the county through his tenure. 

O’Rourke stepped down after Monaghan’s 2019 All-Ireland SFC qualifier round two exit to Armagh in June, after famously leading the county to Ulster title wins in 2013 and 2015, and to the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final.

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seamus-mcenaney Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney is back at the helm. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There’s no doubt it was disappointing,” Hughes said of the end of the tenure.

“We had seven years of Malachy and he’s probably the best manager that I ever worked under and probably ever will. If anyone’s going to be better than him then he’d be a damn good manager.

“Last year it was just as if no matter what we tried, it didn’t work. You’d go back to training after a defeat or poor result and try to iron out the creases and see where the problems were and say, ‘Right, the next day will kick-start our season’. But we just never got going.

“If there was one thing that was the issue you could iron out that problem. But it was just an accumulation of injuries, suspensions, things not going to plan, just poor results. We just never got that kick-start to really get things going and then next thing that was it, season over in the middle of June.”

After missing the majority of the season with a nasty injury himself, Hughes was “mad eager to get back” for 2020. He broke his ankle, and damaged ligaments around it as well as in his knee, but the midfielder is relishing what lies ahead this year.

While they’ve drawn local rivals Cavan in the Ulster championship and are surely on a revenge mission after last year, the entire focus is on their Division 1 league campaign.

After a narrow defeat to Galway, a convincing victory over Tyrone and a dramatic draw with Dublin, the Farney’s attention now turns to Mayo. With both teams on three points, it’s a crucial battle as the counties look to retain their top-tier status.

“It is a big one,” Hughes concludes. “We know what Mayo bring to the table.

“We haven’t got the points on the board we maybe should have. We’ve had a few decent performances, but haven’t always gotten the results to reward them. That’s Division 1 football for you.

“It’s very important to us. We were lucky we stayed up last year on points difference. We realise the importance of staying in Division 1.”

- Updated 12.15 to amend Hughes’ club

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