Monaghan 'old guard' find port in blue storm
Monaghan0-16 Cavan 0-15
The waves rose high and threw the Monaghan ship off course a few times but their steady and experienced hands eventually got control and reached the dry land of an Ulster semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park yesterday.
It was what they would have expected from Cavan but not necessarily the way it happened.
Four points down after 50 minutes in a match of this claustrophobic nature equates to a very sizeable lead, not something they could have legislated for beforehand.
But with a significant impact off their bench and a core of their most seasoned players rolling up their sleeves and providing some inspiring moments over the last 20 minutes, Monaghan eventually hauled themselves to safety.
Whatever the respective status of these neighbours, neither will ever suffer an inferiority complex in each other's company.
Thus Cavan took the game to their illustrious Division One opponents - who are many observers' idea of the 'fifth' team in football's order of merit on current form - and made them sweat hard for it.
It's a title that sits a little uneasily with Monaghan who have been widely expected to book a place in the Ulster final since the draw was made last October.
And maybe it accounted in some way for the level of uncharacteristic errors in possession that Cavan were able to capitalise on to build that 0-13 to 0-9 lead in the opening 49 minutes.
It was another compelling battle, similar to Ballybofey last week, without the same undercurrent, and the semi-final meeting between them two years ago.
If Cavan were offered a 15-point tally beforehand, they probably would have taken it on the basis they would defend sufficiently well for Monaghan to come in below that.
And for long spells they did, closing the pace on Monaghan's runners with great conviction and resilience time and again in the opening half.
With Feargal Flanagan tracking him and either Rory Dunne or Jason McLoughlin planting themselves in his vicinity at all times, Conor McManus had little room to manoeuvre.
But when he found an inch he took a mile, picking off a couple of spectacular points from such difficult angles, a measure of a man now rated by many as among the very best forwards in the game. Neither side scored a goal - in fact neither side even creating a clear chance, Darren Hughes coming closest when he flashed over on 52 minutes after a sublime catch and drive from a slightly miscued Colin Walshe delivery.
Walshe was back on the field for a competitive game for the first time since rupturing his cruciate ligament in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin and his impact from a 43rd minute substitution, in keeping with most of the Monaghan replacements, was telling.
He scored what was effectively the winning point on 71 minutes after Dick Clerkin and Stephen Gollogly's good approach work.
Clerkin also added a fine point off his left foot and provided a reassuring presence on his 50th minute arrival when the sea was at its most turbulent.
Gollogly was also busy and edgy from the moment he stepped in for the black-carded Dermot Malone just after half-time.
With McManus, Hughes, Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey all making vital contributions, that mixture of fresh legs and experience was a potent enough cocktail to take out Cavan down the home stretch.
The Breffni men can point to the imbalanced free count, 36-19 by our calculations, with some justification, particularly a spell during the second half when Monaghan were getting on top and some appeared borderline. Cavan manager Terry Hyland didn't make an issue out of it afterwards however.
Monaghan can also reflect on Mone's 49th minute surge that might well have yielded a penalty.
Mone stayed back as a sweeper for large parts of the first half but pushed further up after the break and that was pivotal to giving Monaghan some momentum.
Hughes, shadowed by Damien O'Reilly, began to get on top around the middle as the second half wore on and that too had an influence. His performance is all the more creditable given the foot injury he carried into the game.
Hyland admitted the wind, which favoured Monaghan after the break, was more significant than it seemed.
"Probably somewhere around the middle of the second half we lost it a bit. Maybe we backed off a bit and allowed them to get scores from outside the zone," he said.
More than 50pc of the scores, 16 out of 31, came from frees but that shouldn't distort the willingness of both teams to seek openings.
Hyland feels it was a "myth" that Cavan didn't have the attacking potency to win this game. "Statistics are unusual. All through the league, we have scored more from play than nearly every other team. I don't know where these myths come from.
"There is loads of ability in our team. It is only a matter of getting the boys outside the group to believe. Sometimes they are knocked back a little because people pigeon-hole them."
For a long time they outfought and out-thought Monaghan. Michael Argue's posting to full-forward allowed him to use his 6ft 5in frame to win a free and score a point from play before Drew Wylie could address the challenge, which he did.
Dara McVeety's subtle runs into opposition territory also caused problems, while Ronan Flanagan was named at corner-back but played up front to good effect in the opening half.
Monaghan placed Neil McAdam on Gearoid McKiernan and that worked well for a while before McKiernan came into the game with points either side of half-time.
Cavan led by 0-4 to 0-1 and that allowed them to dictate terms. McKiernan's first point came from a misplaced pass just before the break that underlined Monaghan uncertainty.
Their response to falling four points behind said something about them - with five unanswered points to take the lead for the second time.
"We showed our experience and character to find our way back into it. I thought we used the ball better, we got 'Mansy' (McManus) on the ball a wee bit more and I think, overall, we ran out deserved winners," said Malachy O'Rourke afterwards.
"A lot of those fellas have played in a lot of championship games. They've been in that position a lot of times before and I suppose that as much as anything else told."
Scorers - Monaghan: C McManus 0-7 (5fs), P Finlay 0-3 (3fs), D Mone, K O'Connell, D Clerkin, C Walshe, K Hughes (f), D Hughes all 0-1 each Cavan: N McDermott 0-4 (4fs), G McKiernan, M Dunne (f), M Argue, C Mackey (f) all 0-2 each, R Flanagan, C Brady, R Galligan (f) all 0-1 each.
Monaghan - R Beggan 7; D Mone 7, D Wylie 7, R Wylie 6; F Kelly 6, V Corey 7, K O'Connell 7; N McAdam 6, D Hughes 8; R McAnespie 6, D Malone 6, S Carey 5; P Finlay 7, K Hughes 7, C McManus 8. Subs: S Gollogly 7 for Malone BC (40), C Walshe 7 for Carey (43), D Clerkin 7 for Finlay (50), C McGuinness 5 for McAnespie (53).
Cavan - R Galligan 7; F Flanagan 7, R Dunne 7, J McLoughlin 7; D McVeety 7, J McEnroe 5, D O'Reilly 6; G McKiernan 8, T Corr 7; C Mackey 6, N Murray 6, M Reilly 6; N McDermott 7, M Argue , R Flanagan 7. Subs: C Brady 7 for McEnroe (37), M Dunne 7 for O'Reilly (53), M Lyng 5 for Reilly (58), T Hayes for Mackey (64).
Ref - Padraig Hughes (Armagh).