Mon­aghan ex­act re­venge on their Ul­ster con­querors Down

Far­ney men re­cover from an in­aus­pi­cious first half to take com­plete con­trol

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Gaelic Games Championship 2017 - Philip Reid at Croke Park

Sec­ond chances aren’t given too of­ten, and Mon­aghan – with their rep­u­ta­tion on the line and no safety net this time around – didn’t need to be asked twice to take full ad­van­tage.

Once bit­ten, twice shy as they say; and Mon­aghan – ul­ti­mately when it mat­tered more – ex­acted re­venge on their Ul­ster con­querors Down in an en­ter­tain­ing All-Ire­land foot­ball cham­pi­onship qual­i­fier on Sat­ur­day evening that only swung their way with a sec­ond-half clear­ance of the sub­sti­tutes bench that yielded rich div­i­dends.

Af­ter chas­ing shad­ows in the sum­mer sun for a large part of a first-half in which Down showed greater en­thu­si­asm for the task at hand, Mon­aghan’s ex­pe­ri­ence and greater phys­i­cal­ity en­sured there would be no fur­ther woes to add to a cat­a­logue of past fail­ings ex­pe­ri­enced on the Croke Park turf.

Locked to­gether at 1-9 apiece at half-time, with Down prob­a­bly feel­ing short-changed for their Tro­jan ef­forts, Mon­aghan were trans­formed in the sec­ond half with the in­tro­duc­tion of their subs – none more so than the im­pres­sive Conor McCarthy, who treated him­self to four points from play in putting down a marker of in­clu­sion from the start the next day in the quar­ter-fi­nals – prov­ing to be the dif­fer­ence.

Bad first half

Mon­aghan man­ager Malachy O’Rourke de­fended his strat­egy of leav­ing McCarthy and Jack McCar­ron on the bench in a first half when not one Mon­aghan for­ward man­aged a score from play.

“Get­ting that im­pact from the bench was a big boost for us but it’s not al­ways go­ing to work like that,” he said. “It’s just about look­ing at the panel that you have and see­ing what suits best. There’s days that you put them in from the start and there’s other days that, when the game opens up a week bit, they per­form bet­ter.”

Although quiet for a long pe­riod in play, Conor McManus’s ac­cu­rate free-tak­ing proved vi- tally im­por­tant in pun­ish­ing any Down in­dis­ci­pline. McManus’s tally reached dou­ble dig­its for his day’s work – eight from frees – and, as the match opened up and Mon­aghan pulled clear, his in­flu­ence ex­tended be­yond free-tak­ing du­ties as he got con­stantly found space, got on the ball and laid it off with that wise head of his.

There was a cut­ting edge to Down’s play in that first half, al­most as if it were they – not Mon­aghan – who had a point to prove for what had hap­pened in the ear­lier Ul­ster en­gage­ment.

Conor Maginn per­sis­tently looked for the ball and, when he had it, ei­ther looked to at­tack the space or to lay off. Con­naire Har­ri­son es­caped the shack­les of one, two and some­times even three markers to show his worth.

His third point from play, in the 17th minute, left Mon­aghan full-back Drew Wylie fall­ing to the turf on the seat of his pants as Har­ri­son weaved one way and then an­other be­fore firmly plant­ing the ball over. That ef­fort put Down three points ahead, 0-7 to 0-4.

Rov­ing de­fender

Mon­aghan seemed sur­pris­ingly lethar­gic and at times un­sure of what to do in that open­ing pe­riod, with Conor McManus’s free-tak­ing their pri­mary source of scores.

Mon­aghan’s goal came from cor­ner-back Fin­tan Kelly, who is mak­ing a habit of surg­ing for­ward from de­fen­sive du­ties to fash­ion goals. In the 26th minute, Shane Carey clev­erly played the rov­ing de­fender in for a shot on goal. Kelly fin­ished with aplomb for his third cham­pi­onship goal of the sea­son.

Shred­ded

Six min­utes later, though, that Mon­aghan de­fence was shred­ded like a ra­zor rip­ping up thin pa­per.

A high ball into the dan­ger zone was touched on by the im­pres­sive Maginn to Har­ri­son and, de­spite a fast-ad­vanc­ing goal­keeper in Rory Beg­gan and de­fender Kieran Duffy, the Down full-for­ward drove low into the net.

It took a left-footed free from Kieran Hughes to bring Mon­aghan back to par­ity ahead of Mau­rice Dee­gan blow­ing the whistle for half-time.

Mon­aghan had bat­tled hard – with Kieran Hughes putting in a pow­er­ful per­for­mance – to stay in touch in that open­ing half but it was a dif­fer­ent story on the re­sump­tion as the Far­ney men took com­plete con­trol. Owen Duffy and McCar­ron were brought into the full-for­ward line at the break, and shortly af­ter, McCarthy – a real live-wire with an eye for point-scor­ing – was added to bring fur­ther fire­power to launch one at­tack af­ter an­other at the un­pop­u­lated Hill 16 end of the pitch.

The crit­i­cal pe­riod proved to be be­tween the 45th minute and the 50th minute when Mon­aghan took a hold on the match: Ryan Wylie, a cor­ner-back who repli­cated his fel- low de­fender Kelly’s boldness of the first-half in ven­tur­ing for­ward, fisted over a point from a tight an­gle to start what proved to be a se­quence of five unan­swered points. McCar­ron, McCarthy, McManus and McCarthy again – all from play – added points that opened up a five-point gap that would prove too great for Down to claw back.

O’Rourke claimed his men had a “tough week” ahead in pre­par­ing for their quar­ter-fi­nal back at HQ next Sat­ur­day. “There are still a lot of things that we know aren’t go­ing to be good enough go­ing for­ward,” he said.

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