Flying Finlay keeps home fires burning
THE prophets of doom who say Gaelic football is being ruined by sterile, crab-like handpassing movements and ultra-defensive tactics should have been in St Tiernach's Park, Clones yesterday.
End-to-end football, some great scores by both sides, plenty of long-ball kick-passing and the grit, character and pride shining through the two teams made for an exciting if not classic match.
There was drama in the form of Louth being reduced to 14 men when Declan Byrne was sent off after 47 minutes for a second yellow card. There was heart-attack defending by both sides which had their managers' blood pressure rising into the red zone.
There were family angles, such as the sons of the two managers both coming on as substitutes for Louth, and Monaghan's Paul Finlay producing a fine display despite the emotion of a minute's silence before the start to honour his father Kieran, the ex-county star, who died last month.
And there was some high farce when Louth 'keeper Neil Gallagher exceeded his brief by bringing the ball far upfield in the 63rd minute, only to lose it.
Panic stations were sounded back in the Louth goal but Monaghan's Stephen Gallogly saved Gallagher's blushes when his goal attempt brought only a point.
And all this at the ground where the game should not have been played, if the GAA authorities had their way. Monaghan had been punished by loss of home advantage for this fixture over a melee in the Kildare match, but the county board pressed their case and had that decision reversed on appeal.
Louth had no complaints but in a tight match, with the sides level 11 times up to the 55th minute, the battle fought in the boardroom had an effect.
"It was a great match for anybody to be at, but for any manager looking at the amount of scores out there, it wasn't so easy," said Monaghan manager Eamonn McEneaney. "Home advantage was crucial when we were two points down. Our boys know the pitch here and we are hard to beat here, same as Louth are hard to beat in Drogheda.
"It justified the hard work the county board did to get the match at Clones because these two points were crucial."
Louth missed the experience of captain Paddy Keenan and Ray Finnegan, both out with hamstring injuries, but Peter Fitzpatrick wasn't complaining.
"Before the game we were confident enough, even without Paddy and Ray. I don't think the scoreline justified the actual game. Having the man sent off made a massive difference, but our players kept plugging away. We'll get back training and get ready to play Kildare in our next match," said the manager.
The feature of the first half was Louth's 100pc shooting record. They had no wides and compiled 0-10, with Darren Clarke's three points -- one from a '45' -- the biggest contribution. Unfortunately for them, they were three points down at the interval as Monaghan got 1-10 in that half.
Chris McGuinness was the executioner after a well-flighted high ball by Tommy Freeman gave him the opportunity to blast the ball into the Louth net after 26 minutes. Jim McEneaney, son of Monaghan boss Eamonn, plays his club football with Geraldines in Louth and he came on after 35 minutes.
Peter Fitzpatrick's son, Stephen, also arrived as a sub late in the match, but the result wasn't in doubt by that stage. Young McEneaney made an impact, scoring two fine points, and helping Louth to stage an early second-half rally.
They caught a break when Monaghan captain Darren Hughes scored an own goal in trying to clear the ball after 37 minutes -- "It's the first goal I've scored with my left foot," he quipped.
Just a point behind at 1-10 to 1-11, Louth pushed on at full throttle but Monaghan gamely responded and the sides were level 1-14 each when referee Derek McGrath sent off Declan Byrne on a second yellow card in the 47th minute. At first, the loss of the man didn't show, but in an eight-minute blitz, Monaghan soared into an uncatchable lead.
The home side won four Louth kick-outs in a row and turned them into point scores by Owen Lennon (2), Chris McGuinness, Gallogly, Ciaran Hanratty (2) and Finlay to go from 1-15 to 1-22 by the 63rd minute. A late dismissal of Louth's Jamie Carr, also for a second yellow-card offence, didn't affect the result as Louth were beaten by then.
Hughes got some consolation for his own goal by scoring from a penalty in the final minute.
Man of the Match: Paul Finlay (Monaghan)
Scorers -- Monaghan: P Finlay 0-6 (4f), C McGuinness 1-3, T Freeman, E Duffy (3f) 0-3 each, D Hughes 1-0 pen, O Lennon, D Clerkin, S Gallogly, J Turley 0-2 each, C Hanratty 0-1. Louth: D Clarke 0-4 (1f, 1 '45), D Hughes (Mon) 1-0 og, D Maguire, J McEneaney, R Carroll 0-2 each, M Brennan, D Byrne, A McDonnell, A Reid, B Donnelly 0-1 each.
Monaghan -- M Keogh 7; V Corey 6, D Hughes 6, C Walshe 6; D Malone, D Moen 6, C McGuinness 7; O Lennon 7, D Clerkin 7; T Freeman 7, D Morgan 6, J Turley 7; P Finlay 8, K Hughes 6, E Duffy 7. Subs: S Gallogly 7 for K Hughes (25); C Hanratty 7 for T Freeman (61); G McQuaid for D Morgan (64); N McAdam for O Lennon (67); S Smyth for P Finlay (70).
Louth -- N Gallagher 6; G Hoey 6, D Finnegan 6, J Carr 6; D Byrne 6, P Rath 7, L Shevlin 6; C Rafferty 6, B Donnelly 7; D Crilly 6, A McDonnell 6, M Brennan 7; D Maguire 7, R Carroll 7 , D Clarke 7.
Subs: A Reid 7 for A McDonnell (21), J McEneaney 7 for C Rafferty (35), R Greene 6 for L Shevlin (h-t), B White 6 for B Donnelly (49), S Fitzpatrick for R Greene (63).
Ref -- D Fahy (Longford).