Hughes seals Monaghan's final place
Monaghan 1-12 Down 0-13: Two injury-time points from Darren Hughes snatched an unlikely victory for Monaghan in yesterday’s first Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
Down led for most of the game and Monaghan were almost solely reliant on the scoring power of Conor McManus, who kicked a superb 1-7 to keep them in the game.
Hughes proved to be the matchwinner, however, with two late long-range scores, both from almost the exact same spot around 30m out.
Down must have been disappointed to only go in level at 0-8 to 1-5 at half-time as they had been the dominant side in possession during a dull first half.
While five of Down’s forwards got on the scoresheet inside the opening 31 minutes, Monaghan were reliant on Conor McManus who scored 1-4 in the first-half. He smashed the ball into the roof of the net, after a lay-off from Owen Duffy, in the 27th minute.
Both sides were reduced to 14 men after the break, both for second yellow card offences.
Down half-forward Keith Quinn was dismissed in the 46th minute and Monaghan defender Karl O’Connell went three minutes from the end.
The sides were level five times in the second half and Down may have thought they had done enough to progress to the final when Danny Savage converted a 68th minute free.
However a crossfield move by Down was intercepted out in the middle of the pitch and the ball ended up in the hands of the lethal McManus who made no mistake with the equaliser.
Hughes’s dramatic heroics was a small measure of revenge for Monaghan, who blew a nine-point lead against Down on the same ground in last year’s Ulster semi-final.
That was of no concern to new manager Malachy O’Rourke who said: “The biggest thing we will take out of that is that we didn’t play well yet we still came out of it”.