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Monaghan stay strong to hold off Royal rally

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Neil McAdam, Colin Walshe and Dermot Malone, Monaghan celebrate after the game

Neil McAdam, Colin Walshe and Dermot Malone, Monaghan celebrate after the game

SPORTSFILE

Neil McAdam, Colin Walshe and Dermot Malone, Monaghan celebrate after the game

MALACHY O'Rourke's Monaghan were crowned Allianz NFL Division 3 champions at Croke Park after holding off a spirited Meath challenge.

MALACHY O'Rourke's Monaghan were crowned Allianz NFL Division 3 champions at Croke Park after holding off a spirited Meath challenge.

Meath, who welcomed back former skipper Seamus Kenny as a second-half substitute following a cruciate knee ligament injury, were four points down at half-time, but a blistering start to the second half brought them level.

Ciaran Lenehan surged forward from the half-back line for his second point of the game before his fellow wing man Davy Dalton scored a quite majestic goal, running 40 yards through the Monaghan defence before unleashing an unstoppable right-footed drive past Rory Beggan.

That memorable effort tied an entertaining game at 2-6 to 1-9 and when Mickey Newman tagged on a 41st-minute free, Meath led for the first time. But they went 21 minutes without a score after that as Monaghan hit back with five unanswered points.

Newman's 62nd-minute point stopped the rot for Meath but Conor McManus, hugely impressive in attack, pointed to put Monaghan 1-15 to 2-8 in front. That looked good enough but in a dramatic finish, Stephen Bray netted a 66th-minute goal for Meath – his final touch of the game before being substituted.

That brought the Leinster outfit back to within a point but Kieran Hughes bagged Monaghan's third goal with two minutes of normal time remaining to make the game safe, and Hughes's brother Darren bombed forward to complete the scoring.

With 11 minutes on the watch, rampant Monaghan had established a 1-5 to 0-1 lead as Eoin Duffy netted.

Five of Monaghan's six starting forwards were on the scoresheet by this point and a repeat of their early-season drubbing of the Royals was a distinct possibility. But Meath's response was impressive as Eamonn Wallace fed a defence-splitting pass to Newman, who beat Beggan with a low drive at the Davin Stand end within a minute of Duffy's strike.

McManus responded with a brace of points for Monaghan to open up a six-point gap, 1-7 to 1-1, but Meath, who hit 13 wides, did enough for the remainder of the half to remain in touch. Monaghan, though, deserved their victory.

Scorers – Monaghan: E Duffy 1-3, C McManus 0-5 (1f), K Hughes 1-1, P Finlay 0-3 (2f), O Lennon 0-2, D Hughes, C McGuinness 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 1-2 (0-1f), S Bray 1-1, D Dalton 1-0, C Lenehan 0-2, B Menton, P Gilsenan, E Wallace 0-1 each.

Monaghan: R Beggan; C Walshe, F Kelly, D Wylie; D Hughes, N McAdam, K Duffy; O Lennon, D Clerkin; C McGuinness, E Duffy, C McManus; P Finlay, K Hughes, D Malone. Subs: S Gollogly for Malone (30), D Mone for Clerkin (43), P Donaghy for McGuinness (53), V Corey for Wylie (56).

Meath: P O'Rourke; E Harrington, K Reilly, C Young; C Lenehan, B Menton, D Dalton; B Meade, C Gillespie; P Gilsenan, G Reilly, P Byrne; M Newman, S Bray, E Wallace. Subs: D Larkin for Gilsenan (inj, 28), A Tormey for G Reilly (54), S Kenny for Byrne (54), B Dillon for Dalton (56), B Farrell for Bray (67).

Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry).

Irish Independent