Tuesday 23 October 2018

'I think our route to this point probably took more out of us' - Monaghan outlast 'fatigued' Lilywhites

Monaghan 0-15 Kildare 1-10

Kieran Hughes of Monaghan and Kildare defender Johnny Byrne in an aerial duel for possession during yesterday’s clash Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Hughes of Monaghan and Kildare defender Johnny Byrne in an aerial duel for possession during yesterday’s clash Photo: Sportsfile
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

It was, Cian O'Neill suggested afterwards, "definitely one that got away" from Kildare. But history is written by the winners and Monaghan deserve to pen the punchline to yesterday's intriguing 'Super 8s' opener at Croke Park.

Kildare may have landed an early goal of the season contender from Daniel Flynn but in the home straight, when it really mattered, Monaghan's greater experience told. With the game tied at 0-12 to 0-9 and heading for the 65th minute, they found another gear and landed three of the last four points.

Conor McManus of Monaghan kicks a point ahead of David Hyland of Kildare Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Conor McManus of Monaghan kicks a point ahead of David Hyland of Kildare Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Niall Kearns (the best midfielder on view), Conor McManus (the one proven All-Star forward on either side) and goalkeeper Rory Beggan (with a nerveless injury-time free from the 45-metre line) should land those three scores.

Ultimately, in a game of inches, it boiled down to Monaghan's more assured handling of a greasy ball, a lower unforced error count - and the fact they found it easier to kick their points.

Having suffered four All-Ireland quarter-final defeats since 2013, this was a huge result for Malachy O'Rourke. The only caveat is that Monaghan haven't crossed the Rubicon to the last-four just yet: in this new Super 8s era, they will likely need at least two more points to be guaranteed progress.

And yesterday's second result at HQ, an unexpected victory for Galway over Kerry, has upped the ante even more for Sunday's visit of the Kingdom to Clones.

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke, left, shakes hands with Kildare manager Cian O'Neill after the match. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke, left, shakes hands with Kildare manager Cian O'Neill after the match. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

A second Monaghan win could have the double-whammy effect of eliminating their vaunted opponents who, curiously, have lost three of their last four league collisions.

But, speaking before the second game had thrown-in, O'Rourke warned: "Kerry are a completely different team in the championship than they are in the league, and that's been proven year after year.

"Having said that, the fact that we have played them before and we've measured up against them, the boys will take a wee bit of confidence from that."

For O'Neill and Kildare, it's a different and more daunting challenge. Lose to Galway on Sunday and it's a case of going nowhere after Newbridge.

"It was always going to be won by the team that made the least amount of mistakes - and that was certainly Monaghan," the Kildare manager said.

But why so? "I really think there was a level of mental fatigue which can impact on skill execution," O'Neill said.

"I think our route to this point probably took more out of us, without any disrespect to the route that Monaghan had."

This was no classic and, in truth, it was never likely to be. For the first time in weeks, inter-county stars were reacquainted with a slippery sod and a skiddy ball; throw in the prize at stake and you had the ingredients for a nervy battle of attrition.

Conditions were better early on, which may explain why Monaghan already had five on the board inside 11 minutes. By then, though, Kildare had landed what proved the only goal in the sixth minute. The move started with a clever Mark Donnellan kick-out to Mick O'Grady in space on the touchline. Flynn was also involved in the build-up and when he took possession for a second time, his blinding pace took him past Ryan Wylie and around Darren Hughes before he crowned it with a dinked finish high and to the left of Beggan.

That put Kildare, briefly, two up. Ten minutes later, they drew level when another Flynn howitzer was brilliantly tipped over by Beggan.

But Karl O'Connell was pivotal to Monaghan's second-quarter supremacy, scoring two excellent points from the right flank, and they led by 0-10 to 1-5 at the midpoint. Deservedly so, too.

The second half was more of a struggle. O'Connell fisted over his third point on the rebound after his initial piledriver was diverted into the air by Donnellan. But that was Monaghan's only score of the third quarter and when Johnny Byrne finished off one of Kildare's best moves with a 50th-minute point, the Lilywhites were level.

Crucially, thereafter, they started overplaying the ball and/or running into heavy Farney traffic. Kieran Duffy advanced from defence to kick a vital lead point for Monaghan; Kevin Feely levelled from a free but after Kearns restored the lead, Neil Flynn missed a free from distance and Tommy Moolick struck an upright.

Story of Kildare's day - they were marginally off. Whereas when McManus cut in from the left in the 70th minute, he bisected the Davin End posts from the tightest of angles. Eamonn O'Callaghan's reply was too little, too late, and Beggan nailed a free won by McManus to make sure of the points.

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