Superior ring craft gets canny Monaghan over the line
Monaghan 1-10 Kildare 0-12
It had the look and feel of a 'four-pointer', and the Monaghan crowd, no strangers to success in recent years, reacted to a one-point victory in similar vein.
Malachy O'Rourke and Cian O'Neill may have sought to downplay its significance afterwards but when this Allianz Division One campaign wraps up next month, this could well be an afternoon that both sides look back on and feel something was won and lost.
Kildare are a team that has yet to get comfortable with winning a game like this. Monaghan thrive in these conditions as their continued presence in the top flight reflects.
Deep into five minutes of added time, a passage of play that saw Kildare lay siege but ultimately not get close enough for a more presentable chance to snatch a draw told much about these respective teams.
Kildare, for all their athleticism, just didn't have the craft to engineer that position and, in the end, Kevin Feely's shot that drifted wide was speculative at best, cloaked in some desperation.
Monaghan were entirely comfortable with the need to be patient as they protected a one-point lead, holding their nerve and waiting for their opponents to play themselves into a cul de sac, which inevitably happened.
"In fairness to the boys they've had a lot of tough league games, championship games over the last two years," reflected Monaghan manager O'Rourke afterwards.
"We're used to situations like that and we handled it well. It was really good that we didn't do anything stupid and were able to hold out."
As the season progresses their valiant effort will shrink in importance, he predicted, with the knowledge of a man who is registering a fourth successive year as a Division One manager.
"For now we're delighted with two points but we've known from league football before, it's great but it doesn't count for much as the year goes on."
His counterpart O'Neill was equally relaxed about where Kildare find themselves after two rounds. "It's not just about being in Division One. Monaghan have won two Ulster titles in the last five years. Kildare have won two Leinster championships in the last 62 years. Division One is a great test and battleground to see where you are at.
"At the moment, you have to be blunt and obvious and say we are still a little bit off that. That was a match that could have been won and it wasn't, so serious lessons learned," O'Neill added.
"We were definitely the architects of our own downfall. Last week (against Dublin) we were beaten by a better team who for 10 or 15 minutes really exposed us. There was very little between the teams today. We let a huge opportunity slip."
Small things will really grate. Paul Cribbin was a behemoth in the opening half-hour, kicking three points on the run, the last of which left it 0-5 apiece after Monaghan had led 0-3 to 0-1.
But then Cribbin, inexplicably, hauled down Darren Hughes with no immediate threat, leaving referee Joe McQuillan no option but to show a black card.
By then Conor McCarthy had nipped in for the game's only goal, courtesy of Dessie Ward's pass, and by the break it was 1-6 to 0-5 in Monaghan's favour.
Feely kicked his first three frees wide, two from good positions, and those misses will also rankle, though the Athy man had the conviction to stay with them and land his next three.
O'Neill certainly wasn't apportioning blame or his choice of free-taker in the absence of the injured Neil Flynn. "Everyone was lauding Kevin last year when he was kicking them with both feet. It doesn't matter what he is doing for his club and his percentages were incredibly high. Top five to eight per cent in the country last year. He had an off-day today and it is easy to focus on that.
"We had players who weren't kicking frees who hit three or four wides from play and there doesn't seem to be any conversation about them. It's a pressure situation. It's not an easy job. All eyes are on them because it is a set-piece. I wouldn't worry about Kevin. He'll get practicing again. It was just one of those days."
Feely was instrumental in so many other aspects of the game, especially when Kildare pushed on after half-time to reduce the gap to one point within three minutes of the restart.
Ben McCormack scored two of the three points but was gone by the 50th minute after a heavy challenge left him with a bloodied nose. "We definitely lost something when we lost him," O'Neill reflected.
Monaghan may have won Ulster titles recently but their team is evolving all the time. From the 2015 Ulster final, their last provincial success, only seven starters started again in Newbridge while four more came off the bench including Conor McManus for his seasonal return as he nurses his return on a troublesome hip.
McManus' first taste of action was to win a free, somewhat dubiously, which he converted himself. He was one of four different free-takers to convert for Monaghan on the day to compound Kildare's efforts at the other end.
So often the source of those frees was the superb Karl O'Connell surging at such pace from half-back while Fintan Kelly and Conor Boyle were also instrumental in locking down the Kildare attack, Kelly's 28th-minute shoulder on Chris Healy prevented a gilt-edged goal chance.
Kildare conceded far too many second-half frees (12) that gave Monaghan breathing space and O'Neill hopes that they can learn sufficiently ahead of next week's game with one of the division's other pointless teams, Tyrone.
Scorers - Monaghan: C McCarthy 1-1 (0-1f), J McCarron (1f), D Ward 0-2 each, N Kearns (f), C McManus (f), K Duffy, D Hughes, R Beggan (f) 0-1 each. Kildare: K Feely (3fs), B McCormack, P Cribbin 0-3 each, N Kelly 0-2, P Brophy 0-1.
Monaghan: R Beggan 6; K Duffy 7, C Boyle 7, B Kerr 7; N McAdam 6, P McGuirk 5, K O'Connell 8; D Hughes 7, N Kearns 6; D Ward 7, D Malone 7, F Kelly 8; C McCarthy 7, J McCarron 6, D Garland 5. Subs: C Walshe 6 for McGuirk (18), J Wilson 5 for Garland (h-t), C McManus 6 for Malone (54), D Freeman for Wilson (61), O Duffy for McCarron BC (65).
Kildare: M Donnellan 7; P Kelly 7, D Hyland 7, M O'Grady 6; J Byrne 6, E Doyle 7, C O'Donoghue 6; K Feely 7, L Flynn 5; F Conway 6, C Healy 6, P Cribbin 7; B McCormack 7, D Flynn 7, C McNally 5. Subs: D Slattery 6 for Cribbin BC (35), N Kelly 7 for McNally (h-t), M Hyland 6 for O'Grady inj (46), P Brophy 6 for McCormack inj (50), E Callaghan 5 for Conway BC (55), J Hyland for Healy (66).
Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)