Donegal hold on grimly to defeat Monaghan and reach a sixth straight Ulster decider
Donegal 0-17 Monaghan 2-10
DONEGAL's best days might be behind them but they rolled back the years last night to knock defending title holders Monaghan out of the Ulster series and reach the provincial final for a record sixth consecutive time.
It was a particularly significant win for Donegal boss, Rory Gallagher as it was the first time during his tenure that his remodelled side that got the better of Malachy O'Rourke's side.
This is also the first time that Monaghan will be involved in the second round of the All-Ireland qualifers since O'Rourke took over, though on paper they have a relatively straight forward home encounter against Longford next weekend.
Even though they conceded two goals to Monaghan for the first time since this most intense rivalry began in 2013 a much more disciplined performance from the Donegal defence was the key as they conceded only two points from frees.
Martin O'Reilly was the unsung hero hitting three points from play and significantly five of the Donegal forwards scored from play whereas only three of the opposition forwards got on the scoresheet.
There was a very low key start to the contest with just one two scores in the opening eight minutes – both from Donegal while Monaghan squandered three chances at the other end. With Rory Kavanagh making a much bigger impact than in the drawn game Donegal had doubled their advantage by the 15th minute with points from Murphy (45) and Martin McElhinney.
But the contest was turned on its head it the space of two minutes. Shane Carey opened the Monaghan account with a dubious point which the umpires hesitated before awarding but there was no denying his opportunism and McManus' vision less than a minute later.
Uncharacteristically the Donegal defence were caught napping and McManus popped a close-in free – awarded for a foul on himself - to the unmarked McCarthy who slid the ball past Mark Anthony McGinley.
Donegal held their nerve, however, and both Darren Hughes and McManus were fortunate not to get black carded but crucially Rory Gallagher's side hit the next three scores. But the contest took another unexpected twist three minutes before the break.
Referee Maurice Deegan ruled that Anthony Thompson had fouled Monaghan corner back Ryan Wylie just inside the Donegal penalty area, even though it was Eoin McHugh who appeared to impede the defender. Regardless, it was a case of double jeopardy for Donegal was Thompson was black carded – he was replaced by Ryan McHugh and McManus dispatched the penalty.
Against all the odds the game was level and the frustrating thing for Donegal was that they had conceded two of the worst goals imaginable; the concession of the penalty was totally unnecessary but again the Donegal response was positive as they hit two late points to deservingly lead 0-10 to 2-2 at half time.
Initially the coring rate increased immediately after the break with the side sharing two points each. Rory Beggan, however, continued to have problems finding his colleagues with his restarts but Donegal twice let them off the hook with Murphy (45) and McBrearty (free) missing chances to extend their side's lead.
But at the other end the poverty of the Monaghan attack was underlined when Conor McManus landed two shots into the arms of Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley -it was the fifth time that they had dropped shots short and just to add to misery Rory Beggan was wide with a long range free.
Monaghan had introduced four of their substitutes with 20 minutes left but although Donegal seemed in control the game was in the melting down and just to emphasise the point Monaghan subsitutute Conor Boyle made it a one point game in the 52nd minute.
Donegal finally made their dominance count hitting three of the next four points with two excellent efforts from play from McBrearty and Reilly to lead by three (0-15. But Donegal capacity for coughing up goal chances surfaced again with less than ten minutes remaining.
A mistake by Karl Lacey let substitute Conor McCarthy in on goal but his audacious chip over the advancing McGinley but it clipped off the crossbar and rebounded to safety. Rory Kavanagh was sent off after picking up a second yellow and Monaghan finally find their mojo with McManus converting two frees and substitute Jack McCarron hitting his second point since his introduction to cut the deficit to a point.
As the tension mounted the next break went to Donegal when Karl O'Connell was forced to haul down Ryan McHugh leaving Monaghan down to 14 men. Murphy nailed the free to leave it a two point game but the drama was far from finished with five minutes of injury time played. Donegal tried to play down the clock and nearly paid the price with Colin Walshe leaving one point between the sides again with a minute left.
And there was one chance left for Monaghan to send the game into extra time when they were awarded a free from 48m but although goalkeeper Rory Beggan opted to come forward but surprisingly he opted to go short. They worked the ball down the right but Kieran Duffy's finally shot dropped short – it was the story of the game from a Monaghan perspective with six of their efforts dropping short.
The official attendance was 17,174.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; C Walshe (0-1), D Wylie, R Wylie; K Duffy, V Corey, F Kelly; K Hughes, K O’Connell; O Duffy (0-1), R McAnespie, S Carey (1-1); D McKenna, D Hughes, C McManus (1-4, 1 pen, 1f. Subs: N McAdam for D Wylie ht; D Malone for McKenna ht; C Boyle (0-1) for D Wylie 46m; C McCarthy for Carey 49m; J McCarron (0-2) for K Hughes 52m; D Mone for Kelly 63,
DONEGAL: MA McGinley; P McGrath, C Gillespie, E McGee; E McHugh, R McHugh, F McGlynn (0-1); R Kavanagh (0-1), O MacNiallais; A Thompson (0-1), M McElhinney (0-1), K Lacey; P McBrearty (0-4, 3f), M Murphy (0-5, 4f, 1 45), M O’Reilly (0-3). Subs: M McHugh (0-1) for Thompson (BC) 33m; C Toyle for McEhinney 52m; McElhinny for MacNiallais 69m, E Gallagher for O’Reilly 74m
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).