Monaghan dig deep to hold off Kingdom fightback
Monaghan 1-13 Kerry 0-14
A two-point defeat can never be a source of satisfaction for any Kerry team in any era. That much is a given, irrespective of how the county's standards are ebbing and flowing.
But as their team bus nudged its way down some of the narrow roads taking them away from Pairc Grattan in Inniskeen yesterday evening, manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice may have been a little more content than he portrayed in his initial post-match assessment.
This was a testing afternoon in every respect for his young team. When Monaghan began taking teams into Inniskeen for Division 1 matches at the beginning of the decade, showing off such well-appointed club facilities was only part of the reason behind it.
It's a difficult place for visitors to go, especially beneath a misty, grey sky and on a greasy surface that allowed little real flow to the play without fracture. Throw in a nice bit of hostility emanating from the small stand and terrace to either side and Kerry knew there would be no red carpet rolled out for them.
But their response to a seven-point deficit at one stage - six (1-9 to 0-6) at the interval - underlined character that can be stored away in reserve for another day down the road.
They stood up, they pressed on and they brought fight to the second half as the conditions worsened.
That Kerry may be mildly pleased with that is more than a back-handed compliment to Monaghan. Once again, as they had underlined in Newbridge two weeks earlier, their ability to measure a tight finish stood out. They are the game's ultimate street fighters.
Hemmed in by an advancing Kerry for much of the last quarter, during which corner-back Barry Kerr was shown a straight red card, they lifted the siege sufficiently for Neil McAdam and then Conor McManus from a free to land points to keep them two points clear.
Had Kerry got level in those concluding stages they may well have had the momentum to go and win it.
For Monaghan, it was a third win from four over Kerry in the four years since they returned to the top flight,so to say it was shock would be misleading. These are results that they have become well accustomed to.
Malachy O'Rourke's capacity for integration of new players on a continuous basis is at odds with the perception that this is much the same Monaghan team over the last six seasons. Less than half of the team which started in the first of those three wins in Tralee three years ago started again yesterday.
The message is the same though, and it was evident in the early exchanges when they turned over ball routinely on Kerry and made better decisions in possession to boot four points clear in less than five minutes.
They got their kick-outs away with less fuss too, which was something that, too often bogged Kerry down early on. As the first half wore on, the momentum was all Monaghan's, with an impressive counterattacking game and a real outlet in Jack McCarron.
It didn't seem it at the time but referee Cormac Reilly's decision to award Monaghan a penalty was ultimately pivotal.
A beautiful 20th-minute move saw Niall Kearns run on to a deft McCarron pass and go around the advancing Shane Murphy.
The Kerry goalkeeper appeared to legitimately dislodge the ball from Kearns' grasp but Reilly saw it differently and McManus, in for his first start of the season, showed conviction from the spot.
"If I'm honest, I thought the goalkeeper touched the ball and hit it away. Of course, I wasn't going to run in and tell the referee that. Delighted to get it," admitted O'Rourke.
That gave Monaghan a 1-8 to 0-4 cushion, one they were largely able to keep by the break. All the questions then were for the Kerry dressing-room.
When they returned Tom (Leo) O'Sullivan and David Clifford were in, joining An Ghaeltacht's Eanna ó Conchuir, who had replaced Brendan O'Sullivan very early on, and all three substitutes made an impact in different ways.
Clifford got plenty of close attention - Kerr was marking him prior to being dismissed - and he made mistakes, but he chipped in with three points (two frees) and also laid on a goal chance with a sublime pass from a free for Paul Geaney, only for Rory Beggan to deny the full-forward at the height of Kerry's second-half supremacy.
Outside him, Sean O'Shea, restored to the team after being sidelined with injury for last week's aborted fixture, worked tirelessly, while Micheál Burns will be satisfied with the two points he kicked.
But thrust for Kerry resurgence came largely from the back, Brian ó Bealaoích and the consistent Paul Murphy raiding with intent and Jason Foley getting on top in his battle with McCarron.
Without Jack Barry and Barry O'Sullivan, who won a Sigerson Cup title with UCD on Saturday (Monaghan didn't have Conor McCarthy for the same reason), they had struggled early on at midfield but ó Conchuir gave them greater mobility.
Disappointed not to have got a point at least out of it, Fitzmaurice felt the experience will stand to his side.
"They learn about the pace, about the physicality of Division 1 and what playing against the top teams is like. They learn that if you make mistakes you're going to get punished," he said.
"They also learn it's not that big a deal and that they can survive at this level, they're well able for it."
O'Rourke's sentiment matched what he had said in the aftermath of the finish in Newbridge two weeks earlier.
"It was a case of when we had the ball that we didn't do anything rash with it and take it into the tackle," he said. "By and large, we did that."
Scorers - Monaghan: C McManus 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-2fs), J McCarron 0-4 (3fs), P McKenna, C Walshe, D Hughes, O Duffy, D Ward, N McAdam 0-1 each. Kerry: S O'Shea 0-6 (5fs 1 45), D Clifford 0-3 (2fs), M Burns, BJ Keane, 0-2 each, P Geaney 0-1.
Monaghan - R Beggan 8; C Walshe 7, C Boyle 7, B Kerr 6; D Mone 5, D Wylie 7, K O'Connell 7; D Hughes 7, N Kearns 7; P McKenna 6, D Malone 6, D Ward 7; T Kerr 6, J McCarron 7, C McManus 7. Subs: F Kelly 7 for Mone (h-t), R McAnespie 6 for Malone (44), O Duffy 7 for McKenna (51), N McAdam for T Kerr (61), R Wylie for McCarron (67), K Duffy for Kearns (71).
Kerry - S Murphy 6; S Enright 7, J Foley 7, R Shanahan 8; P Murphy 7, A Barry 5, B ó Beaglaoich 7; B O'Sullivan 5, P Crowley 6; M Burns 7, S O'Shea 7, S O'Brien 7; J Savage 5, P Geaney 6, BJ Keane 6. Subs: E ó Conchuir 7 for O'Sullivan (21), T O'Sullivan 6 for Barry (h-t), D Clifford 6 for Savage (h-t), D Casey 6 for Crowley (54), K Spillane for Keane (64), M Geaney for O'Brien (71).
Ref - C Reilly (Meath)