Farney's great hunger floors Tyrone
McEnaney hails players' character after triumph in Kavanagh country
If Billy Brennan had thrown his doors open for a barn-dance last night, the locals would have had a spring in their step, grateful that the season was at last up and running!
National league football came to Patrick Kavanagh country yesterday, a glorious, sun-kissed Inniskeen Grattans Park hosting a bottom-of-the-table Division 1 clash that had little poetic feel to it.
Perfect syntax and rhythm to your game means nothing when the pursuit of precious league points comes down to this, an arm-wrestle of sorts for supremacy.
Two red cards, 12 yellows and 19 converted frees out of 31 scores later and it was the locals who were speaking with that "wink and elbow language of delight" at the end, their manager Seamus McEnaney declaring that while defeat wouldn't end their season and victory didn't make it, the result had certainly started it.
"We played some decent football," declared McEnaney. "It's a very important win -- two points in the national football league. We're going to need six points to stay in Division 1 and this team will be best served in Division 1. We're hopeful that we will grind out four more points somewhere along the road."
If their record of the last five years is anything to judge by, then they'll go close to doing just that. In that time they have lowered the colours of more illustrious counties as Cork, Dublin, Armagh, Derry, Donegal and twice given Kerry a seriously bumpy ride at Croke Park. And now the scalp of Tyrone, the barometer for all aspiring teams, not just in their own province.
"I don't think it would have made any difference who we were playing here in Inniskeen today. We were up for the fight," proclaimed McEnaney, who saw the character nurtured through the years as the cornerstone of this success.
"This Monaghan team has had ups and downs. They have showed great character several times. We've had some decent setbacks along the way but we haven't gone away," added McEnaney.
The result leaves Tyrone isolated at the foot of the division but manager Mickey Harte will be mindful that they were here too a couple of years ago, survived and went on to win an All-Ireland title.
We wrote them off then so we're not quite prepared to ink their epitaph now!
Harte certainly struck some upbeat notes, even if the defeat was compounded for him by the way referee Martin Higgins ended matters, calling time after Dermot Carlin's point left just the minimum between the sides.
The problem was, according to Harte, that Higgins had indicated to the player that more time would be played just prior to the concluding score.
"I had an issue with it. First of all I have no complaints about the referee -- his overall game I was more than happy with," said Harte. "But he said to Dermot Carlin before that last free 'there's 30 seconds left'. Dermie rightfully said to himself, (when he got possession) '30 seconds hasn't gone here', so he kicks the ball over the bar.
"Next thing the whistle went. If he hadn't said that to him, we could have gone and tried to get a goal. We mightn't have got it, but at least we could have gone for it. I don't believe 30 seconds had elapsed in that time."
Harte is adamant that Tyrone will play "enough good football to serve us well this year" and they showed glimpses of it in the first half with some wonderful passages of play, Owen Mulligan, Raymond Mulgrew, Martin Penrose and the ever improving midfielder Aidan Cassidy all turning their shoulder impressively to the wheel.
Conditions were perfect, the surface -- one of three full-size pitches on the property -- pristine and wide enough to attract flowing football.
And of course the setting was picturesque, with rolling drumlins cutting into blue skies. Sometimes when the GAA shines a light through the prism of the league into places like Inniskeen, it shows the best of itself.
Three times in that first half Tyrone led by four points and was it not for Dick Clerkin's presence around midfield, Monaghan might have been further adrift.
Paul Finlay's unerring accuracy from frees also provided a lifeline but it was Tommy Freeman's goal from nothing that ignited them as he turned over Conor Gormley, who had just claimed a short Jonathan Curran kick-out on 32 minutes. With space in front of him, Freeman exploited it and finished brilliantly to level matters, 1-6 to 0-9. From there they actually led at the break, 1-7 to 0-9, from a further Finlay free, a position scarcely deserved.
"It probably was not a good place to be with the football we played. It was a bit of an injustice to the effort and energy to be going in behind," lamented Harte.
The second half was much more attritional and became a tit-for-tat exercise in converting frees, Penrose and Tommy McGuigan on one side, Finlay and Conor McManus on the other. Eleven frees were converted after the break before Tyrone substitute Eoin McCusker eventually got a point from play on 67 minutes to level matters again, 1-12 to 0-15.
But there was another kick in Monaghan. Finlay blazed over when he might have had a goal and Rory Woods landed the insurance just after Stephen Gollogly's second yellow. They then lost Freeman to a second yellow, reducing them to 13 in their desperation to halt Tyrone momentum which ended with Carlin's point.
"I felt we deserved at least one point but the scoreboard tells its own story," contended Harte afterwards.
For McEnaney and Monaghan, the sleeves are rolled up now.
"It will not make any odds if it goes to playing Kerry in Killarney to stay in Division 1, well then so be it," said the ebullient manager. "This team will fight tooth and nail to grind out results and stay here."
Scorers -- Monaghan: P Finlay 0-7 (0-6f), C McManus 0-4 (0-4f), T Freeman 1-1, D Clerkin, R Woods 0-1 each. Tyrone: M Penrose 0-5 (0-5f), T McGuigan 0-4 (0-4f), R Mulgrew, O Mulligan 0-2 each, K Hughes, E McCusker, D Carlin 0-1 each.
Monaghan -- S Duffy; D McArdle, D Hughes, D Mone; C Walshe, N McAdam, K Hughes; F Caulfield, D Clerkin; M McElroy, P Finlay, S Gollogly; C McManus, V Corey, T Freeman. Subs: C Greenan for Caulfield (22), D Morgan for Greenan (43), R Woods for K Hughes (55), D Malone for McElroy (68).
Tyrone -- J Curran; D Carlin, J McMahon, S O'Neill; D Harte, C Gormley, R McMenamin; A Cassidy, K Hughes; C Cavanagh, B McGuigan, R Mulgrew; T McGuigan, M Penrose, O Mulligan. Subs: E McGinley for Hughes (h/t), E McCusker for Mulgrew (57), C McCullagh for B McGuigan (57).
REF -- Martin Higgins (Fermanagh)