DONEGAL 1-04 MONAGHAN 0-09
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT O’DONNELL PARK
THE reaction of the crowd for long spells here told the story of a drab affair in which Monaghan prevailed.
It was a struggle for the most part and Monaghan left with their tails wagging thanks to late points from Rory Beggan and Fintan Kelly.
This was certainly not one of the more memorable of meetings between the counties and for Donegal it was a day when they failed to break Monaghan down.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side lined up with a double-sweeper system and Donegal just couldn’t break down the door. All too often, Donegal over-played back-and-forth between the ‘45s and the groans of discontent that emanated from the stand were borne from sheer frustration as fans urged Rory Gallagher’s side to attack.
The statistics were worrying for the Ulster champions yesterday with just one score – Michael Murphy’s goal in the 45th minute – coming from play and in the 60 minutes after Donegal had gone three-up in the opening ten minutes, they scored a measly 1-1.
When Murphy rose to divert Neil Gallagher’s long ball past Beggan for a goal, it looked as if the hosts were well poised to press on to win, but a rousing finish never materialised and Monaghan did enough for the win with Paul Finlay popping over two frees that levelled it before Beggan and Kelly struck a precious late brace.
The teams were level at four points apiece at half-time, but there was certainly something to be said yesterday for that old line about the first half being even and the second even worse.
At different stages both teams had every player behind the ball and it made for grim viewing for the 5,000 spectators.
Donegal started well and were three to the good by the tenth minute with frees from Murphy (2) and McBrearty. The early tone didn’t act as a prelude for the remainder and Donegal would score just once more in the first half.
Monaghan were off the mark in the 12th minute when Kieran Hughes took a pass from the returned Conor McManus to fire over a point that was the only one from play in the opening half-an-hour.
McManus popped over a free, but the Clontibret man was subsequently black carded for his part in an off-the-ball tangle with Neil McGee.
Murphy restored Donegal’s lead just after Finlay drew Monaghan level, but it was Finlay who had the final say of the first half from a free that sent them in all square, 0-4 apiece, at the break.
Donegal made just one change to their line-up with Eamon McGee restored to the starting XV, taking the place of Hugh McFadden, while Rory Gallagher would later confirm that many of his substitutions were made because of a fear that one of those booked would lose their balance on the tightrope.
Monaghan led for the first time when Dermot Malone drilled over, but Murphy goaled in the 45th minute, rising to meet a route one delivery by Gallagher to score.
Monaghan were content to concede possession from practically every kick-out and Donegal went for the short option for the most part. It was in attack where they found trouble and their wayward shooting contributed to a frustrating afternoon in windy conditions.
Two frees from Finlay left the teams tied again heading into the last ten minutes and there it was Monaghan who took the initiative.
Donegal did have some positivity in the shape of Eoin McHugh’s return to action for the last 16 minutes, but bar Paddy McGrath and Neil Gallagher there were few who could have been content with their own displays. “Not good enough,” was the blunt assessment from the manager afterwards.
Heavy legged Donegal had their chances, the last of them falling to Anthony Thompson, whose effort had to much curl on it. That was either side of the late brace that won it for the Farney men, goalkeeper Beggan sailing over a free and centre-back Kelly sweeping over a fine point.
By then, the sighs from the stand were getting louder as Donegal let slip the chance to take themselves onto the magical six points mark in the standings.
Now, a daunting trip to Kerry beckons with a repeat of the All-Ireland final from last year set to take place in Tralee on Sunday.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamonn Doherty; Eamon McGee, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye; Martin O’Reilly, Odhrán MacNiallais, Ryan McHugh; Patrick McBrearty (0-1, 1f), Michael Murphy (1-3, 3f), Mark McHugh.
Subs: Martin McElhinney for Toye (half-time), Anthony Thompson for Doherty (half-time), Colm McFadden for Lacey (37 mins), Daniel McLaughlin for McBrearty (54 mins), Eoin McHugh for E.McGee (54 mins), Gary McFadden for MacNiallais (67 mins).
MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan (0-1, 1f); Conor Boyle, Drew Wylie, Vinny Corey; Dessie Mone, Fintan Kelly (0-1), Karl O’Connell; Darren Hughes, Paul Finlay (0-4, 4f); Neil McAdam, Dermot Malone (0-1), Ryan McAnespie; Conor McManus (0-1, 1f), Kieran Hughes (0-1), Daniel McKenna.
Subs: Thomas Kerr for McManus (25 mins, black card), Owen Duffy for McKenna (47 mins), Dick Clerkin for McAdam (67 mins).
REFEREE: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).