Dermot Malone fears Monaghan could be coming up against the greatest minor team ever to come out of Derry. The Farney boss knows all about this talented young Derry side because he's faced them three times this season - and lost the lot. Former Monaghan star Malone rates young Derry attacker Johnny McGuckian as the 'Lionel Messi' of his age grade, 'a joy to watch'.
Derry have a strong presence on the line in boss Damian McErlain who previously guided the county to the 2017 Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final. This will be Derry's third national final at the grade in seven years while, in Ulster, they have featured in seven of the last nine provincial deciders. The big positive from Monaghan's perspective is that they took Derry all the way to penalties in the Ulster final.
I was speaking before the Ulster final and I remember saying that Derry were favourites for the All-Ireland, never mind just Ulster.
I think their results have proven that. It's not a case of a manager building up the opposition or anything. There's strong words being said that this is probably the best ever Derry minor team that has come out. That's one hell of a statement.
We played them three teams this year and they beat us three times so we know all about it and we'll have to be at our very best if we're to be close to them.
If anyone can do it, it's Monaghan. Their can-do spirit has been evident all summer. They bounced back from that punishing penalty shoot-out loss to Derry in Ulster by beating Mayo and Kerry to reach their first Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final since 1939.
Max McGinnity, from the same Castleblayney Faughs club as Malone, has been prolific in attack with 3-43 to his credit. But it was their collective effort that stood out in the semi-final win over Kerry when they fortified their defence with an extra man and stifled the Kingdom.
Malone said of the Kerry encounter:
We knew that if we were able to cut off the supply to Paddy Lane, that if we could restrict him to a couple of points, it would go a long way towards nullifying some of their scoring power and that's how it panned out.Derry are pretty mobile, very rounded, so they're not really relying on one sharp-shooter, they've got multiple attacking threats from free-kick takers, to long-range kicks, from midfield, half-back, half-forward. It won't be as simple or straightforward as putting a sweeper in and doubling up on someone unfortunately.
The Monaghan seniors beat Kildare immediately after the minor game in Tullamore. It was a memorable day for Farney fans and senior goalkeeper Rory Beggan talked of taking inspiration from the youngsters.
The seniors are still going too and have an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin next weekend to look forward to. It's only two years since Malone was playing for them and he was a team-mate of current senior manager Vinny Corey as recently as 2019.
If you'd told both of us a couple of years ago that we'd be in this position now, I think we would have laughed you out of the room.
Corey called it time as a Monaghan player after 17 years of service and Malone played for over a decade. But it was a knee injury that forced Malone to hang up his boots and to turn his attention to minor management at the age of just 32.
It could have been 2020, the injury just started creeping up on me. I got a lot of procedures done, I threw the kitchen sink at it really. I had surgery, then I had stem cell surgery and that put the final lights out for me. The knee ended up getting infected and I was in hospital for about 10 weeks.
He's still younger than senior stars like Conor McManus and Karl O'Connell but is serving his county in a different way now and he will go down in history if he can guide the county to a first-ever Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football Championship title win.
Malone smiled: "There weren't many tipping Monaghan for the double All-Ireland at the start of the year, minor and senior! Both teams have a puncher's chance, let's put it that way"