'The boys proved we are more than Rory Beggan and Conor McManus' - Monaghan boss hails his heroes
Monaghan 0-16 Galway 0-8
All the talk in the build-up was about permutations, but an inspired Monaghan performance blew all the ifs and buts out of the water to book their first All-Ireland semi-final place since 1988.
Thirty years of hurt brewed throughout Pearse Stadium and Galway simply had no answer to the Farney defiance as the visitors swatted the hosts aside with the minimum of fuss to top their group, earn an extra day's rest and ensure that there will be Ulster representation in the All-Ireland decider.
The foundations were laid early with a couple of huge turnovers when Galway were on the attack and that was a common theme as Malachy O'Rourke's men got a hand in on numerous occasions to stifle the Tribesmen and halt their momentum.
Playing with huge width and hugging the sidelines, much like Dublin did with great success in last year's semi-final landslide against Tyrone, Monaghan negated Galway's defensive system and made them look disorganised and very ordinary.
Amazingly, Kevin Walsh's side didn't pick up Vinny Corey and Karl O'Connell out wide and they made hay when the ball was switched to the wings at pace. There were overlaps everywhere and Galway had no response.
While the key trio of Rory Beggan, Conor McManus and O'Connell had a significant influence on proceedings yet again, others like Ryan McAnespie and Darren Hughes showed there are plenty of strings to Monaghan's bow, much to O'Rourke's delight.
"A lot of the pundits said after the Kerry game that if you stop Rory Beggan and if you stop Conor McManus, you stop Monaghan. But the boys proved today, we got a lot of scores from a lot of different areas, we proved there was a wee bit more in the team there," O'Rourke said.
Their dominance is all the more remarkable given the trajectory of their championship. Touted as All-Ireland contenders following their comprehensive defeat of Tyrone, they were ransacked by Fermanagh and sent packing from Ulster in the semi-final.
After a tour of the country through the qualifiers, history repeated itself two weeks ago in Clones as David Clifford performed the ultimate smash and grab to snatch a draw for Kerry. That would have left a lasting effect on most squads, but not this Monaghan crew as Beggan points out.
"We played Kerry off the park for 74 minutes and we got hit with a sucker-punch at the end for the second time this season. There's amazing character in this group that we're able to bounce back and get this result playing very well again," the goalkeeper said.
It was a limp display from Galway and one few could have expected. While already guaranteed a semi-final place, the incentive to top the group and avoid Dublin was surely a huge carrot, but they turned in easily their worst performance of the season.
Many Galway supporters had a choice between Salthill on Saturday and Thurles for the hurling yesterday and the paltry attendance suggests they chose the latter, and were fully justified given what transpired.
You would have expected Galway to keep the boot down after an impressive campaign; instead they delivered an uninspiring display and now face the four-in-a-row seeking Dubs with morale likely to be in their boots.
Gareth Bradshaw, Shane Walsh, Ian Burke and Damien Comer have led their charge in swashbuckling style, but never raised a gallop and manager Walsh said that consistent Division 1 experience is the only way to prevent such blips from happening again down the line.
"We all know how much a wounded animal can fight for his life and maybe we weren't as wounded as we'd like to be coming into this game. There are lessons to be learned and it's good for the team, going forward," he said.
"While it's great to have qualified after two games, sometimes that can come into you a little bit. The likes of Dublin have 10 years in Division 1 at this craic and Monaghan are six or seven years up there.
"I have continuously said that those are the matches that you need if you want to become a serious team and an experienced team in how to deal with those situations."
Eight points over the course of nearly 80 minutes - and no score from the 51st minute to the finish - leaves Galway in a difficult spot ahead of next Saturday's last-four clash with the Dubs - a repeat of their league final showdown - but Walsh insisted that "we'll go up to give as good a show as we can".
The Farney hit the ground running from the off and raced into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead playing a high-energy game with Fintan Kelly, Corey and Hughes on the board as they settled into their stride right away.
Comer's refusal to attempt a point from a scoreable free midway through the half summed up Galway's day, while McManus was proving too hot to handle for Declan Kyne at the other end, with Eoghan Kerin switched over on him, but both had tough afternoons on the Clontibret ace.
Monaghan surged further ahead through McAnespie and a placed ball from McManus, but late points from Gary O'Donnell and Shane Walsh (free) left Galway within touching distance after a first half which was difficult on the eye, at 0-7 to 0-5.
McManus set the tone upon the resumption with a brilliant individual point after a mazy run along the end line finished with a fisted effort from a tight angle as Monaghan hit four of the first five points in the new half to open up a five-point lead, 0-11 to 0-6.
When Burke cut the gap to four, there was the smallest hint of a Galway fightback, but it never materialised and they looked devoid of attacking options as they tried to force openings for a goal which never looked likely.
Monaghan reeled off four in a row to close out the game in comfortable fashion and even before the final whistle, their supporters were out on the pitch celebrating their semi-final place in a truly special occasion.
The glass ceiling of not being able to get past the quarter-final stage had been well and truly shattered, and there may be more to come, with an All-Ireland final place well within their grasp.
"People were sort of saying 'Monaghan are a quarter-final team, that's their limit'," Beggan said.
"We wanted to put that right. We haven't shown up in a couple of quarter-finals, but in the three quarter-finals we played in the Super 8s, we certainly showed up."
SCORERS - Monaghan: C McManus 0-5 (4fs), R McAnespie 0-4, D Hughes 0-2, F Kelly, V Corey, R Beggan (1f), D Malone, C Walshe 0-1 each. Galway: S Walsh (2fs), E Brannigan 0-2 each, P Cooke, G O'Donnell, D Comer, I Burke 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN - R Beggan 7; R Wylie 7, D Wylie 7, K Duffy 7; K O'Connell 8, C Walshe 7, V Corey 7; N Kearns 7, D Hughes 7; F Kelly 7, D Malone 7, S Carey 6; C McCarthy 5, R McAnespie 9, C McManus 8. Subs: N McAdam for Hughes (BS 35+3), Hughes for McAdam (h-t), J McCarron 6 for McCarthy (59), McAdam 6 for Kearns (63), P McKenna 6 for Carey (66), D Mone for O'Connell (68).
GALWAY - R Lavelle 6; D Kyne 6, SA Ó Ceallaigh 6, E Kerin 6; C Sweeney 6, G Bradshaw 6, G O'Donnell 6; P Cooke 6, T Flynn 7; S Kelly 6, S Walsh 5, E Brannigan 7; I Burke 6, D Comer 6, A Varley 5.
Subs: P Sweeney 6 for Varley (42), C Duggan 6 for Cooke (52), J Heaney 6 for Ó Ceallaigh (57), P Cunningham 6 for Brannigan (60), D Wynne 6 for Kerin (64), D Cummins for Burke (68).
REF - C Lane (Cork)
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