Monday 20 August 2018

If there is a god, this wonderful Monaghan team will win Sam

Galway will pay heavy price for lack of urgency

Monaghan's Niall Kearns celebrates with supporters. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Monaghan's Niall Kearns celebrates with supporters. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The difference in mentality showed in Salthill last night. It was obvious from the start that Monaghan were standing on the trapdoor and they were not going to let Galway pull the lever. They were intent on denying Galway space up front and were very physical in their approach to the Galway ball carriers.

Sometimes they gave away frees but that was as much down to the referee as anything else. Conor Lane must have thought there was going to be a serious outbreak of violence among the players and every touch seemed to be a free. It was far more entertaining in the old days when the referee allowed players batter each other, all within the rules of course. Monaghan suffered most with this approach.

Worse still was the Neil Flynn sending-off in Killarney; a yellow card for stupidity was all that was warranted, and Kildare must wonder if the refs have a fatwa on them.

When Monaghan attacked they went at Galway defenders who were marking space and did not commit themselves to the tackle like their Farney counterparts - a very similar pattern to the first half of the Connacht final against Roscommon. Monaghan also got plenty of players in front of the ball, with Colin Walsh often ending up in the full-forward line to help Conor McManus. So too Ryan McAnespie, who has added a lot to this Monaghan team. He was brilliant all through. Even the Wylies ventured forward.

Galway were relying on Shane Walsh to burst through. Ian Burke was as usual using his quick hands but Galway were playing like a team who knew they had already qualified and did not want to really put their head in the grinder. They had the benefit of the safety net and the lack of urgency reflected that.

The kick-out strategies were as interesting as usual. Rory Beggan kicked short and long with his normal accuracy. Ruairi Lavelle kicked mainly to his left-hand side, where Galway employed blockers and tried to leave a free catch for Tom Flynn. It did not work. Galway must have forgotten that there are televisions in Monaghan and they watched and devised a wrecking ball strategy, picked up the breaks and moved forward at pace.

Monaghan are in many ways the most successful team in the country. It is not patronising to say that they are an example of using resources to the maximum. They are a wonderful team where everybody pulls their weight. Even McManus does not mind putting his finger in the dyke when the occasion demands. Their willingness to throw their bodies on boots when Galway came looking for a goal late in the game is something that a man must be born with. Bravery is the first thing needed to create a team and Monaghan could sell it.

Galway have now the worst of every world. They did not have to win, played like that and now will find it very hard to raise themselves to face Dublin. The injuries mount up and they as much as gave up with 15 minutes left; some of their subs indicated that they were folding their tent and waiting for Croke Park. Good luck with that. This was a chance to get their formation ready for the semi-final but the ultra-cautious approach now leaves them in tatters .

Galway could not respond at all when they went behind - a similar failing to the League final against Dublin when they also were a man up but seemed stuck in a very rigid defensive formation. Worse still, that defence is becoming more porous as the year goes on. They have learned a certain type of game based on defending but certainly not attacking. Against Dublin they need to start playing football of a natural kind again and get the best out of their individual talents, which are considerable.

If there is a god Monaghan will win the All-Ireland. They played without fear and even early on when they could have been keeping it tight against the wind, they showed that they wanted to win as distinct from keeping the score down. Malachy O'Rourke had signalled this in an interview before the game; he was as good as his word and he deserves enormous credit for having his team razor sharp.

People might think it was hard to lift them after the Kerry debacle but it was probably the opposite. In my experience that sort of ending to a match burns a hole in a player and the next opposition suffers. So it panned out as Monaghan tore Galway apart with a performance of grit, heart and a lot of skill. The fundamentals of hand-passing and short kicking seemed beyond Galway, whereas Monaghan executed these very well under pressure. Monaghan also seem a much fitter team this year and more disciplined. Karl O'Connell, who kicks great points off the outside of the boot but missed a lot against Kerry, took that on board and had a marvellous defensive match instead.

Monaghan had a bus load of heroes and the pitch invasion after the game was over was a lovely scene of a tribe delighting in their side's massive achievement. The future of Monaghan football were the leaders of that invasion - every kid from five to 15 must have made the long trek cross country. Those supporters must hope this long hot summer never ends. It is a long time now since that crushing late defeat to Fermanagh ,and it is easy to be wise in hindsight but the sickeners to Fermanagh and Kerry have hardened Monaghan's souls.

Now another big day awaits. Vinny Corey deserves his shot at the title after years of quiet, dedicated service and there were loads of heroes on the day. Dermot Malone and Darren Hughes also deserve mention, especially Hughes as I have often been critical of his indiscipline in the past, but now he does all the right things and plays within his limitations.

Roll on Croke Park, it will be a day this team will embrace rather than fear, and the certainty is that they will give every ounce of their being to make the biggest step of all.

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