Deja vu all over again for dejected Donegal

Classy Monaghan reprise last year’s Ulster final performance to grind down rivals

Monaghan 1-16
Donegal 1-10

Nobody feels any pain, or gain. That’s what they say about Division Two finals, where promotion is already the shared prize, although both Monaghan and Donegal might say things a little differently after this.

Monaghan can certainly feel they’ve made another gain – and look poised now to build on last year’s Ulster title success, where they also took Donegal apart in similar fashion as here.

For manager Malachy O’Rourke the result can only breathe further confidence into his team as they await the winners of Tyrone and Down in the Ulster championship.

For Donegal there was certainly some pain, not least for manager Jim McGuinness. His team's confidence has been dented ahead of their Ulster championship showdown against Derry on May 25th, but they'll be without influential midfielder Rory Kavanagh, who was shown a straight red card for deliberately putting his boot – which he was actually holding in his hand – into the groin of Monaghan's Darren Hughes in the 39th minute.

McGuinness mightn’t have been feeling the same pain as Hughes was in that particular moment, but he was clearly upset in the breakdown of his team’s discipline. He didn’t blame Donegal’s loss on Kavanagh’s reckless foul, but it obviously didn’t help.

“It’s something we could have done without,” said McGuinness. “He lost his discipline, and when you represent your county, you’ve a duty to do the right thing. We spoke about it there now, and we’ll just have to take that lesson . . .

“But we saw it here last August when Eamonn McGee lost his discipline [against Mayo]. And it’s not good enough. I felt we were in a very good position at that moment. It was a three- point game, we were pushing on and we’d the wind at our back. And I thought we could have pushed on and won the game but it [losing a man] leaves it very difficult.”

It was suggested Kavanagh may have been provoked, as Hughes appeared to kick Kavanagh’s boot away shortly after it was dislodged from his foot: “Yeah, he probably was, but he still has to retain his discipline,” said McGuinness.

Whatever Monaghan have been doing on the training field showed up brilliantly here, the end result every bit as emphatic as their Ulster final win last July, which saw them stun then All-Ireland champions Donegal. Here, they slowly ground them down over the 70 minutes, and in the end there was no disputing Monaghan’s greater spread of scoring and defensive talent.

From man-of-the-match Dessie Mone to constantly threatening Conor McManus and second-half substitute Dick Clerkin, they always looked to have the edge on Donegal. The standout score came on 56 minutes with a brilliant goal, started and finished by Kieran Hughes, and including an amazing succession of passes, the last one coming from substitute Ryan Wylie.

Still, Donegal were only trailing by three points around the time of Kavanagh's straight red card, and looked to have overcome that loss not long after when Ryan McHugh was pulled down, apparently just outside the area, by Colin Walshe (who was black-carded). Up stepped Murphy to blast home the penalty and Donegal were level.

Not for long. Monaghan were lording possession throughout the field and the goal from Hughes, which put them back in front, was deftly constructed and finished. They then outscored Donegal four points to three in the time that remained, always looking composed, with both Clerkin and fellow sub Chris McGuinness scoring lovely points in the final 10 minutes.

Both teams started speculatively, although Monaghan turned on a little more style Midfielder Darren Hughes hit two points from the outside of his boot, both from distance, and so too did Paddy McKenna. Kieran Hughes also had the first sniff of a goal, although couldn’t quite lick it – his shot skimming over the bar for a point.

All this contrasted with a lethargic, somewhat disjointed, and frequently inaccurate Donegal in the first half: three frees from Colm McFadden and two from Murphy helped keep them in contention, but they were surprisingly slack from play, dropping several shots short, with Paddy McBrearty and Murphy the only forwards to score from play in the half.

Still Donegal were just three points down at the break, trailing 0-10 to 0-7. Monaghan did have the benefit of the breeze in that first half, and even playing against that breeze in the second half, they proved unstoppable.

MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-1, a 45); D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe; D Mone (0-1), K Duffy, P McKenna (0-2); D Hughes (0-2), O Lennon; D Malone, S Gollogly, F Kelly (0-1); P Finlay (0-3, two frees), K Hughes (1-1), C McManus (0-3). Subs: D Clerkin (0-1) for Lennon (37 mins, inj), R Wylie for Walshe (black card, 54 mins), C McGuinness (0-1) for Gollogly (57 mins), S Carey for Malone (67 mins), J McCarron for Finlay (71 mins), K O'Connell for D Hughes (72 mins, black card).
DONEGAL: P Durcan; N McGee, L Keaney, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; O Mac Niallais (0-1), R McHugh, C Toye; P McBrearty (0-1), C McFadden (0-4, three frees), M Murphy (1-4, a penalty, three frees). Subs: N Gallagher for McElhinney, M McHugh for Toye (both 28 mins), C Classon for Mac Niallais (46 mins), D O'Connor for R McHugh (58 mins), D Walsh for Keaney (65 mins), D Molloy for McFadden (68 mins, black card).
Referee:David Gough (Meath)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics