Report: Monaghan stun flat Donegal to end three-in-a-row dreams

21 July 2013; Mark McHugh, Donegal, leaves the field with an injury. His loss was a huge blow to Donegal.

21 July 2013; Mark McHugh, Donegal, leaves the field with an injury. His loss was a huge blow to Donegal.

DONEGAL’S dreams were dashed in Clones yesterday as a first Ulster Championship defeat of the Jim McGuinness era was inflicted by Monaghan.
It was a day when so much went wrong for the reigning champions, whose grip on the lugs of the Anglo-Celt had been loosened by a determined Monaghan thanks to four quick-fire points in the opening seven minutes.
Donegal were kept scoreless until the 32nd minute, by which stage Monaghan were five ahead and, but for a couple of wayward attempts, the margin could have been greater.
Monaghan did unto Donegal what Donegal have done unto so many others this past three years.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side deployed a system that was designed to curtail the possession going into the totemic trio of Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty.
They kept Murphy and McBrearty scoreless and restricted McFadden to four frees. Only through Frank McGlynn, Ryan McHugh and Rory Kavanagh did Donegal manage to score from play.
There were times when it seemed as if they had found a way, but they proved to be false dawns as Monaghan’s sheer tenacity proved so telling. Donegal’s entire half-forward line was withdrawn in the first half and David Walsh, a replacement in the half-forward division, was called ashore at the break. Four subs had been used by the time David Coldrick three in the ball for the second half.
At the other end, there has never, in Championship football anyway, been a more chastening experience for the Donegal defence under McGuinness. Monaghan had their number here in so many facets: Quicker, sharper and hungrier, theirs was a display of real grit and determination that made light work of Donegal’s weariness.
Twice in a three-minute spell when they trailed by five Donegal went agonisingly close to goal: McGlynn flicking wide from Ryan Bradley’s ball in and Murphy managing to get a brief sniff that just wasn’t enough.
As the clock ticked on, the reality set in that Donegal were indeed heading for defeat – their first in eleven Ulster SFC games under McGuinness, only their second in 16 Championship games in his tenure.
45 seconds in the dynamic Darren Hughes popped over the opening score – and it was a point that set the tone for a first half that had Monaghan looking not unlike the Donegal we’ve got to know so well.
By the seventh minute, Monaghan were four points to the good. Stunned Donegal watched in horror as ‘keeper Rory Beggan and Conor McManus knocked over frees before Padraig Donaghy scorched through to make it a four-point game.
Remarkably the next score wasn’t for almost 22 minutes. Donegal coughed up some possession that was so uncharacteristic, but Monaghan stood firmly by the plan laid out by Malachy O’Rourke.
It wasn’t pretty, but it hadn’t intended to be.
Monaghan will surely have rued the four wides they posted, particularly the pair in the space of two minutes from Vinny Corey and Kieran Hughes that could have left Donegal facing the mountain by the quarter-hour mark.
Donegal thought they had broken the duck in the 31st minute through Rory Kavanagh’s arched effort from the left-hand side. Initally given, it was chalked off by David Coldrick on the advice of his linesman, Padraig Hughes.
It was another ten minutes before a white flag went up in favour of Donegal, with McFadden finally registering from one of his bread-and-butter frees. It hadn’t been a kind experience for the St Michael’s man up to that point, kicking a ‘45 wide and having an earlier free trail to the left.
Monaghan moved five ahead through a McManus free and Donegal were looking leg weary and tired.
Space was opening all over for Monaghan, but Donegal will have been relieved to be only three behind at the break, with Dessie Mone and McManus having wides.
Donegal’s first point from play didn’t come until first-half injury time.
With Monaghan having piled the bodies back, it was perhaps no surprise that the score was engineered and scored in the half-back line, Anthony Thompson feeding Frank McGlynn for a well-taken score.
Moments earlier, Beggan had a ’45 caught by Paul Durcan and you got a sense that Donegal could come good.
The pattern continued on in the second-half, with sloppy passes, tired tackles and wayward shooting the order of the afternoon for off-colour Donegal.
Just 50 seconds into the second half, Kieran Hughes sliced over to make it a four-point game before half-time sub Ryan McHugh scooped off the goal-line.
A goal here would have broken Donegal.
McHugh then got up for an inspirational long-range score after a patient build-up involving Kavanagh, Murphy, McGlynn and Ross Wherity.
McHugh and Wherity were two of four subs utilised by Donegal before the start of the second half.
Mark McHugh had been withdrawn with both concussion and a dead leg following a heavy collision with Stephen Gollogly in the tenth minute. Both players left the action, Gollogly nursing a badly-swollen left eye.
McHugh’s loss hurt Donegal badly.
For all the scores of the forwards or the all-action Karl Lacey – returned here but showing the effects of a long injury lay off – McHugh is the centrepiece in the jigsaw and Donegal sorely missed his involvement.
Kieran Hughes clipped over three magnificent points that were bisected only by a McFadden free and the Farney men were five up again, with just ten minutes gone in the second half.
Five wides in an eight-minute spell when they begun to appear desperate for a goal took Donegal to a place where no team had managed to take them.
A Conor McManus free opened the margin to a handful and it was notable that when Rory Kavanagh reduced it, with six minutes left, there was barely an audible cheer.
The game was up – and Monaghan closed it well, with McManus and Beggan on the mark before Tommy Freeman came off the bench to score a fitting clincher. Freeman is one of the mainstays of Monaghan football over the last decade. Much like the Donegal side that made a breakthrough in 2011, yesterday will have been a truly special one for the likes of Freeman, Dick Clerkin, Vinny Corey, Darren Hughes and Dessie Mone.
Bedlam ensued as Monaghan toasted the arrival of the Anglo-Celt to their firesides for the first time in 25 years.
It was a day for the Farney Army, but on a head-scratching day for Donegal they were left with many more questions than answers, which they’ll need to find now as they face that dreaded six-day turnaround before playing Laois on Saturday night. Should Lacey have started? Was it right to keep Gallagher in reserve? Have the injuries caught up with them?
At times like this, answers can be hasty. McGuinness will watch the re-run in depth before drawing his conclusions.
“We just didn’t get enough people today to push us over the line,” he said.
The statistics will make painful reading this morning as Donegal head for a qualifier and the path ahead looks a little less rosy now.
The response will be fascinating.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Frank McGlynn (0-1), Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson; Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Ryan Bradley; Martin O’Reilly, Leo McLoone, Mark McHugh; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden (0-4, 4f).
Subs: David Walsh for McHugh (10 mins), Neil Gallagher for O’Reilly (24 mins), Ross Wherity for McLoone (32 mins), Ryan McHugh (0-1) for Walsh (half-time), Martin McElhinney for Bradley (65 mins).
MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45); Kieran Duffy, Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe; Vinny Corey, Neil McAdam, Dessie Mone (0-1); Owen Lennon, Darren Hughes (0-1); Paul Finlay, Stephen Gollogly, Dermot Malone; Padraig Donaghy (0-1), Kieran Hughes (0-3), Conor McManus (0-4, 3f).
Subs: Gavin Doogan for Gollogly (10 mins), Dick Clerkin for Doogan (52 mins), Christopher McGuinness for Malone (65 mins), Tommy Freeman (0-1) for McManus (70 mins).
REFEREE: David Coldrick (Meath).

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