Monaghan can dare to dream as Hughes turns on the style
Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10 (Allianz NFL Div 2 Final)
In just 12 months Monaghan have now plundered three significant pieces of silverware under the quiet tutelage of Malachy O'Rourke.
Yet real respect, the type of respect that makes people genuinely believe – not just patronise – that they can retain their Ulster title, will only come now after this most impressive Division 2 final win over Donegal in Croke Park.
Last year was clearly no ambush. This result has franked that they are a very serious team. Donegal have had a winter to repair yet they were still at arm's length against a side that is clever, well coached, fast on the break and efficient in almost everything they do.
They will survive in the hot house of Division 1 next season. But first there is the summer to ponder.
Any team with forwards of the quality of Conor McManus, Kieran Hughes and Paul Finlay can dare to dream. Darren Hughes' scorching runs from midfield add another dimension.
For evidence of the team work and understanding that has been honed under the current management there wasn't a better example than their goal on 57 minutes that was worked through at least seven different players beginning and ending with Kieran Hughes at either side of the field.
You may not see a better crafted 'team' goal this year with Stephen Gollogly, Dessie Mone, Kieran Duffy and finally Ryan Wylie, on for the black carded Colin Walshe, assisting for Hughes to bat home from close range.
And when Donegal drew level early in the fourth quarter through a Michael Murphy penalty, Monaghan still had the conviction and nerve to respond, and see the game out comfortably.
On this evidence Donegal will have plenty of time over the summer to play their club fixtures. What's more, with the exception of Ryan McHugh, they haven't added a player over the last two years who could make a meaningful difference to those rooted down already. And many of those established players have regressed considerably.
The suspicion will linger that Donegal may have been holding something back ahead of the Derry game in four weeks' time but what purpose does that really serve? Maybe they will prevail in Celtic Park but in Croke Park they have struggled badly on their last two visits and don't look equipped for it any more.
They weren't helped by the red card picked up by Rory Kavanagh in the 42nd minute when he jabbed his boot, which was in his hand after coming off him moments earlier, into what can be diplomatically described as Darren Hughes' groin area.
Donegal may point to some provocation – his boot had been kicked away – but Kavanagh had been blocking Hughes' run in the previous passage of play and as a consequence a flashpoint between the players developed. What Kavanagh did was silly and he will now miss the Ulster quarter-final against Derry unless there is a successful hearing or appeal process.
Almost everywhere there was lethargy from Donegal. Up front only Michael Murphy really caused Monaghan trouble and that was limited. Colm McFadden was well marshalled by Drew Wylie, just as he was in last year's Ulster final, while all three starting half-forwards were taken off by the 58th minute.
Once again Monaghan were loyal to a defensive system that served them so well last season. They were happy to concede a majority of kick-outs and alternate the role of sweeper through a number of different players. But almost everyone was a defender when they didn't have the ball.
At the other end the McGee brothers did well in the face of such adversity thrown at them by McManus and Kieran Hughes but Donegal's half-back line that has been the platform for so many good days collectively made no impact.
Donegal edged 0-2 to 0-0 up with their first couple of attacks but once Monaghan settled there was an air of control and authority about them.
Rory Beggan barely took a step back to convert a '45' and seven of their next nine points were from at least 40 metres out.
Paudie McKenna floated two over off the outside of his right boot, and Darren Hughes did something similar with his brace as he grew into the most influential player of the first half.
Dessie Mone also sliced over a point in similar fashion and he was arguably Monaghan's most consistent force throughout.
Kieran Hughes might have had a goal but his shot grazed the upright on its way over (there were some suggestions that it may have gone wide) on 28 minutes for a 0-9 to 0-5 lead.
Recognising how easily his team was being swept aside Jim McGuinness made a double substitution, introducing Neil Gallagher and Mark McHugh for Martin McElhinney and Christy Toye to bring the number of 2012 All-Ireland final starters to 12. But the impact wasn't what they might have hoped for.
Two late frees from Murphy and McFadden gave Donegal a position at the break, 0-10 to 0-7 behind, that didn't reflect Monaghan's dominance.
Monaghan lost Owen Lennon to a serious looking ankle injury on the restart, and that triggered an altercation between a number of players.
Kavanagh was red carded minutes later and the game entered a lull but Murphy's penalty threatened a Donegal revival. Monaghan's appeal to the officials to review the stadium screen which showed replays of the foul that confirmed it happened outside the area naturally fell on deaf ears. The rules don't allow such facility.
The response was quick and emphatic from Monaghan however. McManus peeled away from Neil McGee impressively to land a fine score on 55 minutes that was the impetus for a strong finish.
Kieran Hughes' goal directed Donegal thoughts to Celtic Park and with Dick Clerkin and Christopher McGuinness ramming home their advantage the gap increased. McFadden ended the day with a black card and Darren Hughes picked up one for a body check.
The only consolation for Donegal was what transpired in the following game.
Scorers - Monaghan: K Hughes 1-1, C McManus, P Finlay (1f) 0-3 each, D Hughes, P McKenna 0-2 each, D Clerkin, C McGunness, F Kelly, D Mone, R Beggan (1 45) all 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 1-4 (3fs), C McFadden 0-4 (3fs), P McBrearty, O MacNiallais 0-1 each.
Monaghan – R Beggan 7; C Walshe 6, K Duffy 7, D Wylie 8; D Mone 8, V Corey 7, F Kelly 7; O Lennon 6, D Hughes 8; D Malone 6, S Gollogly 7, P McKenna 7; P Finlay 7, K Hughes 8, C McManus 8. Subs: D Clerkin 7 for Lennon (37), R Wylie 7 for Walshe (53) BC, C McGuinness 6 for Gollogly (57), S Carey for Malone (67), J McCarron for Finlay (71), K O'Connell for D Hughes (73, BC).
Donegal – P Durcan 7; E McGee 6, N McGee 7, L Keaney 6; F McGlynn 6, K Lacey 5, A Thompson 6; R Kavanagh 6, M McElhinney 5; O Mac Niallais 6, R McHugh 6, C Toye 5; C McFadden 6, M Murphy 7, P McBrearty 6. Subs: N Gallagher 6 for McElhinney (27), M McHugh 6 for Toye (27), C Classon 5 for MacNiallais (46), D O'Connor for R McHugh (58), Declan Walsh for Keaney (65), D Molloy for McFadden (68, BC).
Ref – D Gough (Meath).