Tuesday 26 September 2017

Monaghan must raise game after dour victory – O'Rourke

MONAGHAN 0-11 ANTRIM 0-6

Monaghan's Paul Finlay in action against Antrim's Sean McVeigh
Monaghan's Paul Finlay in action against Antrim's Sean McVeigh

Orla Bannon

Malachy O'Rourke was the first to say what everyone else had been thinking.

Malachy O'Rourke was the first to say what everyone else had been thinking.

He had just watched his Monaghan team toil in the sun in Casement Park and kick more wides (17) than points (11) when he said: "We won't have scared anyone today".

This dour struggle had a lot to do with Antrim's defensive strategy which appeared to be a damage-limitation exercise from the word go.

Frank Dawson, in his first championship match in charge of the Saffrons, elected to persist with Mark Sweeney as a sweeper even though they had an extra man for most of the second half.

When Neil McAdam was sent off for an innocuous-looking second-yellow-card offence in the 39th minute, Antrim should have taken it as a signal to push on. They had fought back after a poor opening quarter and should have gone for broke. Instead it was Monaghan who reacted best to the setback.

On a day when scores seemed to be hard to come by, the visitors reeled off three unanswered points in the 10 minutes after McAdam's red card to effectively close out the game.

O'Rourke, desperately searching for positives, was delighted with his side's response. "The sending-off injected more purpose into our play," he said. "We needed a spark to get us going again and that's probably what happened.

"It seemed fairly harsh anyway but that was pleasing that the boys were able to put a bit of daylight between them."

Conor McManus, Paul Finlay, Owen Duffy and Christopher McGuinness were frustrated figures, starved of room to operate in, though the latter did score a point in each half from play.

Monaghan were five points to one up after 21 minutes, Darren Hughes, Duffy and McManus all scoring from play, and the result already looked a formality.

Maybe the Monaghan players thought so too because they endured their worst spell of the game, completely fading out of the match in the second quarter.

Antrim capitalised on Monaghan's lethargy and got themselves back into the game with three unanswered points to trail by just 0-5 to 0-4 at the break, midfielder Sean McVeigh, who lined out for London against his native county last year, scoring two from play.

Paddy Cunningham's free drew them level immediately after the restart – but the sending-off of McAdam hurt Antrim more. Suddenly there was renewed vigour and appetite about Monaghan.

The introduction of Drew Wylie at full-back had a big impact and as the Monaghan defenders pressed up a lot harder on Antrim's packed defence, Wylie was one of the men forcing the turnovers.

O'Rourke admitted that complacency may have been an issue.

"You have to remember, Antrim were completely written off coming into this match and the boys were listening to that all the time," he said.

"The performance wasn't what we wanted but we had one objective and that was to come here and win.

"We know we need to improve a lot if we want to go further in the competition."

Antrim boss Frank Dawson was unrepentant about his defensive strategy.

He disagreed that his side should have ditched the sweeper system when they had an extra man for almost the entire second half.

DISMAL

"We spent the last nine weeks trying to turn around what everyone was telling us was the dismal state of Antrim football," he said. "People thought we'd get beat by 20 points. Some people wondered why the Ulster Council were even bothering to have a game today."

The loss of Kevin Niblock to injury just before half-time was a massive blow after he had kicked two first-half points.

"Niblock is a great ball-winner and his experience was a loss," admitted Dawson. "Things went well for us in the first half and we put ourselves in a good position but losing him was a big blow.

"We still had enough ball but our decision-making at crucial times hurt us. We wanted to run the ball more but you can't fault players, there's still things we have to learn.

"I'm not going to criticise any of them, the fellas went through a huge amount of work. We restored pride in the jersey and our championship season is not over."

Scorers – Monaghan: C McManus 0-4 (3fs), C McGuinness 0-2, O Duffy, D Hughes, D Mone, P Finlay, T Freeman 0-1 each. Antrim: S McVeigh, K Niblock (1f) 0-2 each, P Cunningham, M Pollock (f) 0-1 each.

MONAGHAN – R Beggan 7; K Duffy 5, F Kelly 6, C Walshe 7; D Mone 7, N McAdam 5, V Corey 6; O Lennon 6, D Hughes 6; P Finlay 6, D Clerkin 6, O Duffy 5; C McGuinness 7, K Hughes 6, C McManus 6. Subs: S Gallogly for Clerkin (42), D Wylie for Kelly (45), T Freeman for O Duffy (49), J McCarron for Finlay (64), P Donaghy for K Hughes (70).

ANTRIM –C Kerr 6; K O'Boyle 6, R Johnson 6, A McClean 7; S Kelly 6, J Crozier 6, P McBride 5; S McVeigh 7, M Johnson 6; A Healy 5, K Niblock 6, M Sweeney 5; M Pollock 5, P Cunningham 6, B Herron 5. Subs: C Murray for Herron (30), M Herron for Niblock (h-t), R Murray for Cunningham (53), J Carron for McClean (57), P Doherty for M Johnson (65).

REF – D Gough (Meath)

Irish Independent

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