Monaghan bridge 26-year gap with hard-fought victory over Tyrone

Champions make heavy weather of seeing off rivals, spurning several goal chances

Monaghan 1-12 Tyrone 0-14

Tectonic stuff in Clones, Ulster Championship to the nth degree. Collisions to make the teeth rattle, black cards to make the eyes roll. When it was over, Monaghan were still Ulster champions and their unbeaten run in St Tiernach’s Park has stretched to 14 games.

More parochially, they had beaten Tyrone in championship for the first time since 1988. Monaghan just about got the trip and no more here.

They didn't score after the 58th minute and only squeaked home in the end thanks to a missed free by Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan as the clock ticked past 70.

Had there been more than two minutes of additional time played, it’s no outrage to assert Mickey Harte’s side would have found an equaliser. That there wasn’t provoked a rarely-seen level of fury from Harte towards the referee afterwards.

On a micro level, it was doubtless an annoyance. The wider picture, however, is of a Tyrone empire that just isn’t built on foundations as strong as it once was, a fact that must weigh on Harte far more heavily than a quarrel with a referee’s watch.

Monaghan hadn’t beaten them in 26 years purely because anytime they had a team good enough to do so, Tyrone made a point of putting them back in their box.

They weren't able to do so here. In truth, Monaghan ought not to have made such heavy weather of it. They missed three goal chances in the first half, including a penalty from the otherwise excellent Kieran Hughes.

They went five points clear in the 49th minute but didn’t manage another point from play all day. When it takes a quarter of a century to get over the line, you’ll take crossing it by the smallest inch.

Better side

They certainly didn’t play like a side racked with worry. With Conor McManus a late confirmation to start – the team was only revealed at 11.30 yesterday morning – they were much the better side in the opening half.

Tyrone started well with scores from Darren McCurry, Ciarán McGinley and Seán Cavanagh, but never got more than a point ahead. McManus wasn’t offering much from play but his free-taking was spotless.

Though Monaghan led by 0-8 to 0-7 at the break, they were worth a kick or two more. Apart from Kieran Hughes’s penalty – cracked against the post in the 22nd minute – the busy full-forward had only just failed to take advantage of an empty goal when lobbing a snapshot from 30 metres early on.

Also, the free count in the first half was 14-6 in their favour, a state of affairs that would inevitably level out as the game wore on. When they finally breached Morgan’s goal early in the second half, it was a thing of beauty.

Sublime pass

A sublime crossfield ball from Dick Clerkin found

Darren Hughes

in space 35 metres from goal. Hughes ducked inside one Tyrone defender and drew another before playing in

Dermot Malone

, whose finish found the bottom corner.

It pushed Monaghan 1-9 to 0-7 ahead and though Seán Cavanagh replied soon after with a marvellous score of his own, Monaghan were on top now. With Drew Wylie and Dessie Mone monumental in defence, it was hard to see an obvious way back for Tyrone.

Storming afternoon

Yet came back they did.

Mattie Donnelly

was having a storming afternoon and when he strode forward for his third point in the 50th minute, the margin came down to four again. Morgan potted a 45, McCurry followed soon after with a fine score from the right, and just like that, there were only a couple in it.

Monaghan’s salvation came in the form of a couple of lazy frees given away by the Tyrone defence. McManus kicked both, his fifth and sixth of an otherwise off-colour day to give them a four-point cushion with 10 minutes to go. From there, the game helter-skeltered home.

Morgan nailed a free, Connor McAliskey came off the bench to grab two smart points. Tackles started getting desperate. Malone and Darren Hughes were black carded for Monaghan, McAliskey suffered the same fate for Tyrone. It all came down to a last-minute free from more or less the same spot where Cavanagh had equalised against Down a month ago in Omagh. Morgan wasn’t on the pitch then, Cavanagh deferred to him now.

It seemed an odd call, since the goalkeeper had been having a poor day in every respect other than his frees whereas Cavanagh had led from the front relentlessly.

On top of which, the free was from the left-hand side and suited a curling kick rather than the speared efforts in which Morgan specialises.

One way or the other, the ball leaked to the right of the posts and Monaghan survived to meet Armagh in a fortnight.

For Tyrone, it’s Louth in the purgatory of the qualifiers. It’s not a route they’re unaccustomed to, but just now September seems a good distance away for Harte’s side.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times

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