Farney firepower condemns dire Down to record defeat
Monaghan 2-22 Down 0-9
After the dressing room door was barred from reporters and television crews for an extended period following this slaughter of Down, Mourne manager Eamonn Burns eventually emerged.
Among his post-game ruminations, he said: "Confidence comes from winning games, we came here full of confidence."
Only… It has been 14 months since Down won a game of any significance, and that in a National League Division 2 game. Under Burns, they have only mustered one win, a Dr McKenna Cup victory over the students of St Mary's 145 days ago.
And the odd thing is that after Donal O'Hare clipped over a free in the 36th minute to leave two points between them, we thought we were in for the tightest game of this strange, passive edition of the Ulster Championship.
The signs, though, were there. On 18 minutes, with Down leading 0-4 to 0-3, Monaghan's Dermot Malone could be seen urging his team-mates to push up and mark every Down player for Stephen Kane's kick-outs.
Sweeper Kieran Duffy twice, and Karl O'Connell secured the next three Down kick-outs, turning them into two Conor McManus pointed frees and a Shane Carey point from play.
Of the 25 kick-outs from Down after Monaghan applied the pressure, the Ulster champions won the majority of possession - turning over the ball 13 times. That there wasn't a change of plan with Darren Hughes and Karl O'Connell lording the aerial battles appeared to be a fault of planning.
Asked to comment on the clear widening gap that is appearing in the Ulster field, Burns acknowledged: "If you are analysing the last three or four games that would be the case but we feel on any given day, and obviously today was not one of them, that we can compete with anyone.
"But Monaghan are a very experienced team, they have won two of the last three Ulster titles and you don't do that without very experienced players and a good system.
"I would not be standing here talking to you if I did not think that we could not close the gap. We need to look at that on Tuesday night as we start to get ready for the qualifiers."
"Like I said, for 40 minutes we were in that game, it was nip and tuck and probably the kick of a ball. It's hard to explain the last 25 or 30 minutes."
In the early stages, Down looked as if they had sufficient bite for the game. Isolating Connaire Harrison and Barry O'Hagan, they placed a line of bodies across their 50-metre line and fought hard. While Burns handed championship debuts to Gerard McGovern, Joe Murphy and Barry O'Hagan, there were flashes from veterans Aidan Carr, Kevin McKernan and Peter Turley that they had at least brought an appetite.
They could also claim to be harshly treated by referee Conor Lane in the opening half, one spectacular Kieran Hughes spin and dive into the chest of Kevin McKernan being rewarded with a close-in free. By the time the Cork official was leaving the field for his break, one elderly Down man had to be restrained by an Ulster Council steward from engaging in what might have been a lively debate.
Most damaging for the Down psyche, with so many youngsters in the team, were the eight first-half wides. At the break, the Monaghan lead had grown to 0-9 to 0-6. For the first few minutes of the second half, Burns kept Mark Poland and Conor Maginn in a more advanced position, and so began a scoring drought for them that lasted 27 minutes. Aidan Carr was playing as sweeper, but simply had too many places to be at once and he daren't vacate the middle channel.
On 46 minutes, Hughes turned the ball over with a strong tackle, the ball was worked to Carey, who transferred on to Conor McCarthy to fist over. A McCarthy free five minutes later left it double scores, 0-14 to 0-7.
Showing off their considerable repertoire, Monaghan's victory had an element of the circus to it as goalkeeper Rory Beggan advanced to take four dead balls in the second half. He converted three of them with that lovely swing of his right boot, each to louder cheers as the Down supporters began to filter out of St Tiernach's Park.
Burns sent in a number of subs, but they had little influence. One of those included Paul Devlin, who won a kick-out cleanly, but was instantly stripped of possession by the busy and effective Kieran Duffy. The Latton man drove in a long ball towards McManus and when the ball bounced over his head, Kieran Hughes was all alone in front of goal, slashing his shot across Kane and killing the final embers of an unlikely comeback.
The second goal arrived in the closing moments. Ryan Wylie was in possession along the Gerry Arthurs Stand sideline, he transferred to Thomas Kerr, who brought it infield to Darren Hughes, who embarked on another lung-busting run through the middle of the Down defence. He released at the right time to substitute Owen Duffy, who placed his shot with his instep past Kane.
To audible groans, the stadium announcer said there would be five minutes of injury time. Monaghan were to pile on four more points to make it Down's heaviest-ever defeat in championship football.
Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke was pleased but admitted it took a while for his team to get going.
"Once we got six or seven points up and had a bit of a breeze behind us, Down, I'm not saying they threw in the towel but it got increasingly hard for them," he said. "But that first half, we wouldn't have been happy with aspects of our play. We know we have an awful lot to work on."
SCORERS - Monaghan: C McManus 0-8 (6f), K Hughes 1-2, O Duffy 1-0, R Beggan 0-3 (2f, 1 '45), C McCarthy (1f), D McKenna 0-2 each, K O'Connell, S Carey, D Malone, R McAnespie, D Clerkin 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hanlon (2f), C Maginn, D O'Hare (1f) 0-2 each, P Devlin, M Poland, B O'Hagan 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN - R Beggan 7; R Wylie 7, D Wylie 7, K Duffy 6; V Corey 7, C Walshe 6, D Mone 6; D Hughes 8, K O'Connell 8; S Carey 6, D Malone 7, R McAnespie 6; C McManus 8, K Hughes 9, C McCarthy 6. Subs: O Duffy 7 for McAnespie (51), F Kelly 6 for Mone (53), P Finlay 5 for K Hughes, D McKenna 7, for McCarthy (59), D Clerkin 6 for Corey (63), T Kerr for Carey (64).
DOWN - S Kane 6; G McGovern 6, C McGovern 5, D O'Hagan 6; D McKibben 6 , A Carr 6, D O'Hanlon 7; G Collins 6, P Turley 6; K McKernan 6, J Murphy 5, M Poland 6; C Maginn 7; C Harrison 5, B O'Hagan 5. Subs: D O'Hare 5 for O'Hagan (h-t), H Brown for Turley (BC, 40), P Devlin 5 for Murphy (48), J Flynn 5 for McKibbin (55m), D Turley 5 for Collins (62), R Mallon for Maginn (68).
Ref - C Lane (Cork)