Monaghan victory far from vintage as Farney Army march on
Monaghan 1-24 Down 1-16
Monaghan celebrated only their second championship win in Croke Park since 1930 with a strong second half performance overpowering Down yesterday.
The storming response expected after their surprise defeat in the Ulster semi-final took a while to materialise, with the teams level 1-9 apiece at half-time, but second half changes proved critical in giving them much-needed attacking impetus.
Conor McCarthy came on and scored four points from play. Jack McCarron had two more. Down, still level ten minutes after the interval, fell five points adrift over the next six minutes and never recovered.
“We went a roundabout way of doing it but we’re there now,” said Conor McManus, Monaghan’s top scorer with 0-10, eight of those from placed balls, afterwards. “Our ultimate aim was to get to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.” They take their place on Saturday next and now face a selection headache after the impressions left by McCarthy and McCarron in particular after coming on.
Down were unable to reproduce the performance that floored Monaghan six weeks earlier but played most of the football in the first half and would not have been flattered to have led at half time. Connaire Harrison, who tormented Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final, was again the key influence and finished the half with 1-3 from six possessions.
Down showed much more attacking adventure, despite falling two points behind in the opening minutes, the first score, from Darren Hughes, coming from the throw-in without Down managing to lay a hand on the ball. Kieran Hughes kicked another but Monaghan looked tentative and cagey.
Darragh O’Hanlon’s free had Down off the mark in the sixth minute and their final score of the half was Harrison’s goal two minutes before the interval which regained the lead after Monaghan had moved in front with a 26th-minute goal from corner back Fintan Kelly — his third goal in successive matches.
Down’s Achilles heel was a tendency to foul when Monaghan moved into their territory. Six of Monaghan’s nine first-half points came from placed balls, five landed by McManus, the other coming from an excellent kick by Kieran Hughes with his left foot.
Kevin McKernan had a first-half goal chance but shot wide at the near post after 20 minutes. But Monaghan made critical changes with McCarron coming in for the start of the second half and McCarthy introduced ten minutes later. McCarthy was exceptional and McCarron’s second score put them six points up for the first time after 61 minutes as Monaghan dominated the Down kickout.
Down’s chances began to fade when Darragh O’Hanlon missed two scoreable frees and then Harrison, starved of the ball for most of the second half, blasted over the bar from a good goal chance with eight minutes of normal time left. A goal then would have reduced the Monaghan lead to three points but they were playing at a higher pitch by then. It wasn’t a vintage show but it’ll do for now.
Down at least exit the championship with a fighting performance, particularly in light of the heavy defeat they suffered at Monaghan’s hands last year. They have something to build on for 2018.
Scorers: Monaghan - C McManus 0-10 (0-8 fs); C McCarthy 0-4; F Kelly 1-0; K Hughes D Hughes (0-1 f) 0-3 each; J McCarron 0-2; R Wylie, O Duffy 0-1 each. Down - C Harrison 1-4; J Johnston 0-3 (0-1 f); C Maginn; D O’Hanlon (0-2 fs); K McKernan 0-2 each; S Millar, C Mooney, D McKibbin 0-1 each.
Monaghan: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, K Duffy, K O’Connell; K Hughes, D Hughes; G Doogan, D Malone, S Carey; R McAnespie, D Freeman, C McManus.
Subs: O Duffy & J McCarron for D Malone & S Carey (both half-time); C McCarthy for Freeman (46 mins); D Ward for Doogan (blood sub 48); G Doogan for McAnespie (68); D Mone for O’Connell (71).
Down: M Cunningham; N McParland, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon, C McGovern, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, S Millar; S Dornan, C Harrison, R Johnston. Subs: J Johnston for Dornan (49 mins); A Carr for Turley (52); D McKibbin for Millar (58); M Poland for Maginn (59); D O’Hare for Mooney (67); J Murphy for R Johnston (74).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).