Championship Special: Monaghan 3-23 Wexford 1-11
Anyone with the view that the gap in football from Division 1 to 4 is surmountable got an emphatic and decisive answer in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when Wexford were simply devoured by a Monaghan side with serious designs on reaching the latter stages of the All-Ireland series in this round 2B mis-match.
In fact, it was a complete shambles from the home side's point of view as they succumbed to a humiliating 18-point defeat and ended with just twelve men on an afternoon when it seemed like they were actually the away team.
That's because Wexford supporters were, as expected, heavily outnumbered by their Monaghan counterparts who afforded a warm and generous welcome to their ex-boss and fellow countyman, Seamus McEnaney, when he emerged for the pre-match warm-up, and again before the action began.
Anyone who has seen his team regularly this year will have known beforehand that there was no chance of an upset, but it was even worse than expected as the losers were sorely lacking in two key areas: tactics and discipline.
From the throw-in, Conor Carty raced back to take up his customary role as sweeper, while Jake Firman also drifted deep behind his own midfield. Monaghan corner-backs Fintan Kelly and Ryan Wylie stayed put for the most part, and that left P.J. Banville completely isolated in the full-forward line.
Clearly damage limitation was the intention, but it failed miserably as the Farney men drove forward at will. Indeed, their two first-half goals as they surged into an unassailable 2-10 to 0-5 interval lead arrived from the two men who started on the right flank of their defence, Kelly and Karl O'Connell, while the third was a tap-in with ten minutes left from substitute Kieran Duffy who was operating at centre-back at the time.
Wexford's sweeper had no impact whatsoever on the game, and the side reverted to a more attacking formation for the second-half with the introduction up front of Fethard duo John Tubritt and Mikie Dwyer, the latter making his Senior inter-county debut but unlikely to figure very much in 2018 given his involvement with Clontarf in rugby.
The game, of course, was long over before half-time and Monaghan continued to do as they pleased until the last whistle. If someone with a crystal ball had said beforehand that their star man, Conor McManus, wouldn't score, it's fair to assume that Wexford would have expected to be a lot closer to their Division 1 rivals at this finish.
However, the squad strength of teams at that level is immense, a point underlined by five of the winners' substitutes contributing 1-8 from play between them after coming off the bench.
As for discipline, Wexford's frustration was understandable as they were well beaten from an early stage, but that doesn't make some of the incidents acceptable.
John Leacy received a straight red card in the 67th minute for a late, high and dangerous lunge at Owen Duffy after he popped a pass, and that was the final ignominy for Wexford as it left them with just twelve men.
They also picked up three black cards, one double yellow, and three single yellows, while the Monaghan figures were one black and one yellow.
Wing-back Eoghan Nolan was the first to go on a black in the 18th minute after needlessly taking out Dessie Mone when the ball had passed them by.
There was an undercurrent to the game from early on, and it spilled over with a big disagreement in the 26th minute. Monaghan ace Conor McManus was black carded when order was finally restored, but frankly I was amazed that a Wexford defender didn't join him on the sideline.
Referee Conor Lane may have been assisted by two ex-county footballers in linesmen John Hickey (Carlow) and Anthony Nolan (Wicklow), but he didn't get the best of assistance on that occasion.
The second Wexford black card was another clearcut one, as midfielder Naomhan Rossiter deliberately pulled down Neil McAdam in the 33rd minute.
Matters settled down somewhat in the second-half, with Wexford using their sixth and final substitute in the 48th minute before their numbers dwindled rapidly near the end.
Ciarán Lyng departed on a second yellow with eight minutes left after a brief set-to near the Monaghan goalmouth before a '45 was taken.
The 14 men became 13 just over two minutes later when Adrian Flynn was black-carded for a late challenge on Neil McAdam, and John Leacy was the last to walk and with very good reason to be fair about it.
For the record, the other yellows went to Kevin O'Grady, P.J. Banville and Monaghan's Fintan Kelly in the same incident, and Daithí Waters.
As for the football, it was nearly all played by Monaghan on what must have been a difficult day for manager McEnaney despite the warmth of the greeting afforded by his own people.
He wasn't as animated as usual on the sideline, and his understandably bullish talk in the immediate aftermath of the Limerick win, to the extent that Wexford would be a match for anyone, was cruelly torn asunder from an early stage.
To be frank, the losers gave themselves absolutely no chance of winning this game with their formation, because you can't win a football match without forwards. Often times P.J. Banville was the only man within kicking distance of the Monaghan posts, and the support play was ineffective.
The visitors were superb, and it was just a pity that Wexford were the ones on the receiving end of the backlash after their surprise loss to Down.
They had stars everywhere, principally wing-back Karl O'Connell who in my opinion is one of the most under-rated players in the country, and powerful midfielder Kieran Hughes who kicked two memorable first-half points off the outside of his left boot.
P.J. Banville's pointed free from 42 metres inside two minutes proved a false dawn, as Shane Carey equalised before Monaghan goaled for the first time to mark the beginning of the end as early as the eighth minute.
O'Connell found Jack McCarron on the right, and his long handpass was gift-wrapped for corner-back Fintan Kelly who couldn't believe his luck, left completely unmarked despite Wexford's extra bodies in defence as he calmly tucked the ball past Shane Roche for a 1-1 to 0-1 lead.
McCarron and Kieran Hughes added points, and it was just shy of the 15-minute mark before their rivals had their first shot from play when Kevin O'Grady kicked the initial one of his side's nine wides (six for Monaghan).
Prior to that Wexford had been stripped of the ball three times in quick succession as they tried to break through by a combination of manic tackling and their own poor control. It was symptomatic of a game that would get worse for the home team with every passing minute.
The large and vociferous Monaghan crowd had plenty to enthuse over as Shane Carey made it 1-4 to 0-1 before a brief respite when Ciarán Lyng converted a free via the left post after a foul on O'Grady.
Colin Walshe and McCarron widened the gap to seven during a spell when off-the-ball tussles were even more frequent than the scores, with Lyng, Banville and Fintan Kelly all entering the notebook. O'Grady had been penalised first for catching Kieran Hughes late after he kicked his point.
The second Monaghan goal in the 26th minute owed everything to the movement of Jack McCarron. After glowing reviews for his league performances, the attacker hadn't shone in any of their three games in Ulster, but he left Michael Furlong and Conor Carty for dead with a decisive turn in the right corner, setting up right-half back Karl O'Connell who stretched the margin to 2-6 to 0-2.
Losing McManus didn't deter the leaders as they ended the half ahead by 2-10 to 0-5, with the first Wexford point from play eventually coming in the 32nd minute courtesy of P.J. Banville.
Eoghan Nolan's black card replacement, Ben Brosnan, added a second while Ciarán Lyng sent over a free, with Jack McCarron very fortunate not to be black carded for pulling down O'Grady. However, at least the referee showed consistency as he turned a blind eye to an exactly similar challenge in the same area of the field by Brian Malone on Karl O'Connell in the 47th minute.
Monaghan's last four points of the half came from free-taking goalkeeper Rory Beggan, Owen Duffy after yet another run by the rampant O'Connell, substitute Darren Freeman after a lovely dink pass from Shane Carey, and a second monster effort from distance by Kieran Hughes.
Gavin Doogan widened the gap on the re-start before a timely block by Kevin O'Grady denied Carey a possible goal.
And there was an early consolation for Wexford when the net did rattle in the 41st minute, with Ben Brosnan applying the finishing touch from close range after a move involving Mikie Dwyer, O'Grady who made the telling burst, and P.J. Banville (2-11 to 1-5).
Dermot Malone and Brosnan (free) swapped points, but Wexford didn't register again for eleven minutes and in that spell Monaghan added scores from Doogan, McCarron (free), Freeman and Conor McCarthy.
The latter added two more, the first from a free after a great catch, in a spell when Lyng (free) and Adrian Flynn raised white flags at the other end.
The third goal arrived in the 60th minute, with Thomas Kerr unselfishly squaring the ball for Kieran Duffy who had drifted upfield unknown to Brosnan and tapped home from a matter of inches (3-18 to 1-8).
Wexford still had a full complement of 15 at that stage, but not for long.
Their last three points came from Brosnan ('45 and two frees), while Monaghan's closing five scores to crown a completely dominant display were grabbed by Darren Hughes, Darren Freeman, Kieran Duffy, Conor McCarthy (free) and Dessie Ward.
Wexford: Shane Roche; Jim Rossiter, Michael Furlong, Tiarnan Rossiter; Eoghan Nolan, Joey Wadding, Brian Malone; Daithí Waters (capt.), Naomhan Rossiter; Kevin O'Grady, Ciarán Lyng (0-3 frees), Adrian Flynn (0-1); Jake Firman, P.J. Banville (0-2, 1 free), Conor Carty. Subs. - Ben Brosnan (1-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 '45) for Nolan, black card (18), Colm Kehoe for N. Rossiter, black card (34), John Tubritt for Firman (HT), Mikie Dwyer for Carty (HT), John Leacy for Wadding (40), Paul Curtis for Kehoe (48), no replacement permitted for Flynn, black card (64).
Monaghan: Rory Beggan (0-1 free); Fintan Kelly (1-0), Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Karl O'Connell (1-0), Colin Walshe (capt., 0-1), Dessie Mone; Neil McAdam, Kieran Hughes (0-2); Gavin Doogan (0-2), Dermot Malone (0-1), Shane Carey (0-2); Owen Duffy (0-1), Jack McCarron (0-3, 1 free), Conor McManus. Subs. - Darren Freeman (0-3) for McManus, black card (29), Kieran Duffy (1-1) for D. Wylie (HT), Conor McCarthy (0-4, 2 frees) for Carey (48), Thomas Kerr for McCarron (48), Darren Hughes (0-1) for K. Hughes (51), Dessie Ward (0-1) for O'Connell (61).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).