DONEGAL 0-15 MONAGHAN 1-09
Report by Chris McNulty at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones
DONEGAL are Ulster Champions once again and Jim McGuinness’s team once again has the rest of the country nervously craning their heads north-westerly after delivering an emphatic message in their defeat of Monaghan in Sunday’s Ulster final.
On the same Clones soil on which they’d been beaten last summer, McGuinness’s men exacted sweet revenge and banished the painful memories of 2013 after becoming provincial kings for the third time in four years.
From the off, it was clear that Donegal were on a mission and they weren’t going to be rolled over this time.
They had to battle for this and by the end Ryan McHugh, Neil McGee and Eamon McGee had changed blood-stained jerseys with Eamon McGee sporting stitches on a wound above his right eye. The Gaoth Dobhair man got patched up and got back to work.
It was a day when McGuinness, again, got his tactics, substitutions and match-ups spot on.
Donegal led 0-6 to 0-4 at half-time, but McGuinness will have felt that his men should have had a greater advantage by then. Monaghan came to within a point when Chris McGuinness drilled to the back of Paul Durcan’s net in the 50th minute, but Donegal shook their heads clear and hit back in style.
When Michael Murphy stepped up to land a free from 60metres over the black spot in the dying seconds, the ribbons could be tied.
Donegal could reflect on a job superbly done as the silverware was booked for the Abbey Hotel once again.
Conor McManus was kept scoreless until added time at the end when he swung over a score that was hardly even a consolation while Kieran Hughes was restricted to just a point as Donegal’s mean defence turned in a top-class display.
Paul Finlay’s points had kept Monaghan in touch on a day when Rory Beggan was not able to sprinkle the same star dust on St Tiernach’s Park as he had done against Armagh. Beggan put an early ’45 wide and dropped a free short into the grateful arms of Neil Gallagher in the seventeeth minute.
By then, Donegal were three-nil up as roles were reversed from last year when Monaghan hit Donegal with an early flurry.
Karl Lacey popped over the opening point after five minutes, making hay when he collected a loose ball. Odhrán MacNiallais and Colm McFadden (free) widened the margins as Donegal laid down a marker.
A massive Paul Finlay point that was more hope than hit in the 14th minute got Monaghan off the mark, but the Farney side were under no illusions.
Tempers frayed when Neil McGee and Dermot Malone were jotted into the notepad of Maurice Deegan in the 21st minute, but Donegal held their discipline.
Monaghan ended the first half with Kieran Hughes, Stephen Gollogly and Dick Clerkin all booked and perhaps fortunate to have their full compliment still on the field.
Lacey’s influence was so clear at times, with the four-time All-Star making a brilliant tackle to rob Malone of possession, despite being on his blindside, while he threw himself in to put Fintan Kelly off at the vital moment.
Lacey had not been named to start, but the Four Masters man was in along with 18-year-old Darach O’Connor and Neil Gallagher as Donegal again kept them guessing until the last minute.
Anthony Thompson and McFadden had Donegal 0-5 to 0-2 up, but Beggan knocked over a ’45 to narrow the gap. MacNiallais swung over off his right foot, his weaker foot, but Finlay converted a free to make it a two-point game (0-6 to 0-4) at the break.
Patrick McBrearty wasn’t named in the team, but he came on for O’Connor in the 26th minute and scored three superb points in the second half.
Donegal pushed five clear in the opening ten minutes of part two with McFadden (2), MacNiallais and McBrearty reeling off the scores.
Disaster struck when McGuinness hit an inspirational goal, firing across Durcan to the far corner after Monaghan had forced a turnover of possession. Monaghan trainer Ryan Porter sprang to the field in celebration and Monaghan looked lifted – but it was Donegal who rallied to win.
McHugh blasted over after Neil McGee made a determined surge into Monaghan territory with a statement tun. McFadden’s burst of pace set up McBrearty for a booming effort and Murphy hit his first of the day ten minutes from time to put four between them.
Kieran Hughes and McBrearty traded scores before Vinny Corey inched Monaghan to within a goal again, only for a moment of magic by Murphy to seal the deal. Deployed deep once again, Murphy stepped up to convert from a massive 60metres.
On so many levels this was sweet: for the comeback year of Christy Toye and on the occasion of his 50th Championship game for Donegal; for the pain suffered at Monaghan’s hands last summer; and for a county desperate to get back to dreamland again.
But for their manager – who’d been questioned up and down – it surely tasted sweetest.
Once again, they head for the bright city lights where no-one will relish a meeting with this most meticulous of machines.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson (0-1), Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey (0-1); Neil Gallagher, Odhrán MacNiallais (0-3); Christy Toye, Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh (0-1); Darach O’Connor, Michael Murphy (0-2, 2f), Colm McFadden (0-4, 4f).
Subs: Patrick McBrearty (0-3) for O’Connor (26 mins), Rory Kavanagh for Toye (47 mins), Martin McElhinney for MacNiallais (59 mins), David Walsh for McLoone (60 mins), Dermot Molloy for McFadden (66 mins), Gavin Doogan for Clerkin (67 mins).
Monaghan: Rory Beggan (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45); Ryan Wylie, Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe; Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey (0-1), Fintan Kelly; Dick Clerkin, Darren Hughes; Paudie McKenna, Stephen Gollogly, Paul Finlay (0-4, 3f); Dermot Malone, Kieran Hughes (0-1), Conor McManus (0-1).
Subs: Chris McGuinness (1-0) for McKenna (44 mins), Owen Duffy for Gollogly (52 mins), Karl O’Connell for Kelly (60 mins), Padraig Donaghy for Malone (60 mins).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).