Flat Farney men flattered by late flurry
Monaghan 1-20 Fermanagh 0-13 Ulster SFC semi-final
All out of shocks in Cavan. After Saturday's cascade of big ball upsets, nothing seismic to see here, merely the flattering flickering of potential from Fermanagh under their wily old sea cap'n Pete McGrath and the steady, crushing hand of belated resistance from the supposed behemoths.
This was Ulster football-lite, in many ways, as even the stiffish breeze swirling around the sward failed to engender the intensity one expects of a championship semi-final.
If this were to be indeed an insurrection, it threatened to be silently surreptitious for so long; with Conor McManus muffled, Fermanagh stifled the favourites' chief scoring threat and, despite two late points for Monaghan, a 0-7 to 0-5 deficit underlined their stout resistance until tea-time.
Sadly, as they attempted to unfurl their best attacking options, Monaghan were able to unleash their reserve strength from a vastly experienced bench; Owen Duffy's second-half hat-trick of points only one key element in a third-quarter surge that propelled them five points ahead by the 50th minute.
Fermanagh, though, were not to be cowed and, with Declan McCusker exploiting expanding spaces in the wide prairies by snaffling two extravagant scores, the Division 3 outfit reduced the gap to a goal just before the hour mark.
What happened next represented a victory for experience as Monaghan emerged almost as if their pedigree simply demanded they do so; a needless knee dropped on Owen Duffy produced a red card for Ryan McCluskey, ironically Fermanagh's most experienced hand.
And where Sean Quigley had previously been knocking over 45-metre frees with all the nonchalance of a fella whacking golf balls on the driving range, suddenly he unaccountably missed one from no distance.
Monaghan added two points after the red card to lead by five with as many minutes left; then McManus sprung to life, notching a wonderful point from the right, his first from play in the 64th minute.
If that seemed like a grace note to Monaghan's hitherto wheezing effort, what followed next plunged a dagger into Fermanagh hearts: a defensive cock-up after a short kick-out went awry, and McManus pounced to score.
In keeping with the tenor of his side's fitful efforts, he needed a second invitation to score, after Thomas Treacy had done well to plunge to the floor and block the initial effort.
That Monaghan spurned a late penalty - from Stephen Gollogly - and eventually ran out ten-point winners ensured that the numbers on the scoreboard deviated wildly from the pictures painted over the 70 minutes.
Not that Fermanagh man O'Rourke could afford to expend sympathy for his native county, with whom he had achieved success at this stage against his current team in 2008.
O'Rourke has moved on and he has taken Monaghan on too; not since the 1920s have they made three successive Ulster finals, but the coach knows that much improvement is needed.
Rory Gallagher and his Donegal brains trust left just as Monaghan began to charge for home; they will have been distinctly unimpressed with what they saw. For the most part, so was O'Rourke.
"In a lot of Championship matches you don't expect to dominate and have everything your own way," he said.
"We knew Fermanagh would set up defensively fairly sound. We knew we would take a while to break that down. Our play wasn't as urgent as we would have liked, we didn't use the ball as we would have liked.
"But it was a matter of more or less keep it in their heads and realising that's how Championship matches go.
"We felt as the game went on we could wear them down more, but in fairness that happened, and the Ryan McCluskey sending off gave us a big boost as well.
"There was no doubt that we moved the ball that bit quicker, we had a bit more intensity. Overall, it was good enough to get through on the day, we are delighted to be back in a third Ulster final in a row but we know we have a lot of work to do.
"I grew up in Fermanagh, managed them, played for them and work in Fermanagh. You don't discard those things lightly.
"I have great regard for all those players, the management team and the backroom team. We knew they would come up and put up a big fight here, we were just focused with trying to get Monaghan through."
Forlorn McGrath dismissed the suggestion that his side may have had the faith that they could match Monaghan without actually believing they could beat them.
At times, especially when they were stifling Monaghan with their defensive blanket before the winners belatedly deployed their wing men to better effect, Fermanagh seemed as if they could threaten an upset.
"We did believe," McGrath insisted. "It was unforced errors and Monaghan being the experienced team that punished us. The red card gave us a mountain to climb and then when the goal came, you could have pulled the curtain down at that stage.
"We matched Monaghan stride for stride over the first 35 minutes. They got away a bit early in the second half, we pegged them back again.
"And then, we're in the next stage and we did cough up cheap possession, and they punished us. The sending-off was a major blow when we needed all the resources on the field.
"And then the goal, I didn't actually see the goal, I had a sub coming on and I was telling him where to go. And then I looked up to see the ball going into the net.
"So ten points flatters Monaghan quite a bit and they will admit that as well. Over 70 minutes, their power, their strength and their experience, that ability particularly in the second half to maximise their chances, was better than ours.
"They're a long way further down the road in their development than we are."
On this evidence, presuming it is Donegal who await next month, they still have a lot of ground to cover.
Scorers - Monaghan: C McManus 1-5 (0-4fs), O Duffy, K Hughes (f) 0-3, N McAdam, D Hughes, K Duffy, D Mone, K O'Connell, D Hughes, S Gollogly, C McGuinness, R Beggan (f) 0-1 each.
Fermanagh: S Quigley 0-5 (4fs), R Jones, D McCusker, E Donnelly 0-2, T Corrigan, A Breen 0-1.
Monaghan - R Beggan 6; C Walshe 6, F Kelly 6, R Wylie 6; D Mone 7, V Corey 6, K O'Connell 8; N McAdam 6, D Hughes 7; K Duffy 6, K Hughes 7, S Carey 6, O Lennon 6, D Malone 6, C McManus (capt) 6. Subs: O Duffy 7 for Carey, C McGuinness 6 for Malone (h-t), D Clerkin 6 for Lennon (41), P Finlay 6 for K Hughes (65), C Boyle 6 for Mone (78)
Fermanagh - T Treacy 6; M Jones 6, N Cassidy 6, M O'Brien 7; D McCusker 7, R McCluskey 5, B Mulrone 6; R Jones (capt) 7, R O'Callaghan 6; E Donnelly 7, C Flaherty 6, P McCusker 6, T Corrigan 6, S Quigley 7, T Daly 6. Subs: R Corrigan for Flaherty (43), C Jones for O'Callaghan (60), D Kille for McCusker (64), A Breen for Jones (68)
Ref - P O'Sullivan (Kerry)