Tyrone 0-9, Monaghan 0-9
At the death, Rory Beggan stood over a 46-metre free with the chance to decide a game that had squeezed most of its drama into the final quarter.
Just seconds earlier, Beggan had been bundled into his own net as a Paul Donaghy effort fell over the bar. And for a moment, that ‘score’ made it look like Tyrone had timed their run to perfection.
Because at that stage, Tyrone had been on the back foot for the closing exchanges. Two yellow cards for Kieran McGeary left them down a man, but it was the gale that whipped up which really had them struggling on the home straight.
Playing with that breeze, however, Monaghan missed several chances, racking up eight second-half wides. Even Conor McManus miscued a free in the admittedly tricky conditions. But Beggan’s free presented them with one more chance to leave Omagh with the win.
Beggan, however, went short with his effort to Conor Boyle, who could only drop the ball into ’keeper Niall Morgan’s grateful hands. As was the case when they last met in the league, the spoils were shared.
As it happened, Beggan left with the official man of the match award in a game that a rare – but not unprecedented – happening in Gaelic football occurred as the Monaghan goalkeeper kicked a fine point from play. Just a minute later, Morgan, his old sparring partner and opposite number, drew the sides level. It was a very modern football exchange after what had been a very modern first half that saw defensive security as the main priority and retention of possession the aim.
And as such, the opening 35 minutes were turgid. Tyrone, who had started with 10 of the side that began last year’s All-Ireland final, had a 0-6 to 0-4 lead at the break.
The home side went three clear on the restart, but Beggan’s point from play looked to have handed Monaghan the advantage they needed. However, Morgan and Darren McCurry responded to edge Tyrone in front again. McManus, on his seasonal reappearance, levelled things up with just over 10 to play, and the Farney looked set to win from there. However, they couldn’t quite pick the lock.
“We probably thought we had won it at the end,” Tyrone joint-manager Brian Dooher said afterwards. “With that controversial point (where Beggan was fouled) or maybe it wasn’t a point or whatever, but maybe we were lucky we survived.
“Monaghan had a few good chances before that they didn’t take, so maybe, all in all, it wasn’t far away from where it should have been.”
A host of familiar faces returned for Tyrone, but the likes of Conor McKenna and Ronan McNamee remain out for next weekend.
“It was important to get those boys back out on the field and give them game-time, the ones who didn’t get the McKenna Cup.
“I suppose we are a wee bit behind the curve in terms of a preparation and fitness point of view. That game will stand to them going forward.
“I think we stood up well at the end, with the number of tackles and turnovers, and you have to give all the credit to the players.”
Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney insisted he had no regrets on deciding to go short with the late free.
“No, the decision was to kick the quick free to Conor Boyle and nine times out of 10, he puts it over the bar, but he didn’t put it over. Listen, there’s not really disappointment. We’d be glad to come out of here with a point. I’m really happy with the character of the lads and how they applied themselves with a couple of new fellas.
“Gary Mohan made his debut today and I thought did reasonably well. I thought our last-ditch defending was top class in periods of the game. We worked really hard and the big thing for me is that we created a lot of chances today. We didn’t take enough of them but created an awful lot.
“For us, it was a great game of ball. Conditions were tough, even if the ground itself was in good condition. It was hard to play and I thought Joe McQuillan refereed really well because it was a hard game to referee and with an awful lot at stake. For us, to take a point here in Omagh is a big result.
“The positive for Monaghan is that we showed great character and went at Tyrone in the last 10 minutes and apart from bad execution, I thought we did a lot of things right.
“We created maybe three goal opportunities in the game and didn’t take them. I don’t mind that. We’re still in January. To create maybe 25 scoring chances here today and only score nine was disappointing, but to create the chances was top class.”
Monaghan move on to face Mayo in Clones. For Tyrone, it’s a trip to face Armagh, the team who recorded the result of the weekend, for what promises to be the tie of next weekend.
“I think they are phenomenal, they just demolished Dublin on all fronts from 1-15, I thought, personally. Going forward, the chances, the scores they created, some great football to watch,” said Dooher.
“They are the standout team this year and they had a good McKenna Cup. That performance has been coming from Armagh and they put it together and showed what they are about. Be under no illusions, we have to raise our game a few notches from out there today to be able to compete with Armagh.”
Scorers – Monaghan: R Beggan 0-3 (2f); M Bannigan (1f), S Carey, C McCarthy, K Duffy, R McAnespie, C McManus (1f) 0-1 each. Tyrone: C McShane (2f), N Sludden 0-2 each; D McCurry (1f), N Morgan (1f), P Harte, L Rafferty, N Donnelly 0-1 each.
Monaghan – R Beggan 8; R McAnespie 7, C Boyle 8, R Wylie 8; K Duffy 7, D Ward 6, D Hughes 7; G Mohan 6, N Kearns 6; C McCarthy 6, M Bannigan 6, S Carey 7; A Mulligan 6, J McCarron 5, A Woods 6. Subs: K Lavelle 6 for Kearns (h-t), K O’Connell 6 for Mulligan (47), D Garland 6 for McCarron, C McManus 6 for Mohan (both 55),
Tyrone – N Morgan 7; M McKernan 7, P Hampsey 7, L Rafferty 8; C Meyler 8, F Burns 7, P Harte 7; C Kilpatrick 7, N Donnelly 7; K McGeary 5, R Donnelly 6, N Sludden 8; D McCurry 6, C Shields 6, C McShane 6. Subs: B Kennedy 6 for R Donnelly, D Canavan 6 for Shields (both 48), M Donnelly 6 for McCurry (62), P Donaghy for McShane (66).
Ref – J McQuillan (Cavan)