Tyrone 1-13 Monaghan 0-15
Let the heartache begin. Monaghan's summer, part on-tour football campaign and part community crusade, came to a shattering end in Croke Park on Sunday, as neighbours Tyrone manoeuvred them out of the All-Ireland football semi-final by a solitary point.
Tyrone move on to the final, where they will meet Dublin in a rematch of the controversial 1995 decider, which they lost by a point. On the balance of play it was a deserved result in a scrappy encounter that saw both teams achieve conversion rates of just 45 per cent.
The winners scored the only goal and had led the match for most of the afternoon, but Monaghan will take away the most unwelcome souvenirs that any team can accumulate on such occasions: a container full of regrets and what-might-have-beens.
They didn’t play to their best, as manager Malachy O’Rourke accepted afterwards, but they were within a single score at the end and he queried the amount of injury time – three minutes – played.
Also mentioned was the last-minute drama when referee Anthony Nolan reacted to a tussle between Kieran Hughes and a defender in the very last minute by sticking his hand out in apparent confirmation of a free in. Hopes soared in the blue-and-white congregation but the whole incident was then mysteriously waved away and play continued for the short while remaining.
But they had had other chances, which weren't taken, and with Tyrone doing a good job of shutting down Monaghan's chief marksman, Conor McManus, they were chasing the match for all but five minutes of the first hour.
Tyrone were motoring from the start, running confidently and leading by 0-4 to 0-1 after just four minutes, all scores from play.
Colm Cavanagh opened the scoring on 19 seconds and was followed by Niall Sludden and Connor McAliskey – both of whom showed good scoring form after a barren afternoon in Ballybofey the previous week – with McManus getting his only point from play, albeit a cracker, in reply.
With McManus otherwise shackled, Conor McCarthy took up the slack and kicked three from play in another welcome return to form that tailed off a bit in the second half. McManus's free-taking, however, kept Monaghan at the table but there were goal chances as well.
A brilliant 16th-minute move built on one of Rory Beggan’s howitzer restarts, was carried on by Ryan McAnespie, whose excellent diagonal in on goal found McManus, but he was crowded out trying to go for goal and the subsequent recycle came to nothing, a poor return for such a brisk, direct attack.
Another attack seven minutes later saw Vinny Corey blocked smartly by Niall Morgan and the follow-up hit the post, with Fintan Kelly unable to improve on the outcome.
Tyrone had their own opportunity as early as the third minute when Frank Burns came through for a point but had support free to his right.
Lack of pace
Monaghan’s biggest problem was a lack of pace in their attack. They held possession for lengthy periods but couldn’t string moves together quickly enough to break the cover and were turned over several times by vigilant Tyrone defending.
A scoring burst before half-time saw McCarthy kick two points in quick succession after two turnovers on the Morgan kick-outs, which were again erratic at times, to leave the sides level at 0-8 each – a state of affairs considered semi-miraculous given Tyrone’s racing start. But if they started in Mondello, they would end up in the drumlins in the second half, going 18 minutes without a score.
With Monaghan settled, the match turned into a recognisably Ulster contest, claustrophobically tight and low-scoring, but nonetheless Mickey Harte's team had the edge, outscoring their opponents by 0-3 to 0-1 on the restart. It was not promising for Malachy O'Rourke's team that Beggan, whose virtuoso kick-outs were keeping his team supplied, missed the chance in the 37th minute to convert what would have been his 18th free of the championship.
Defences were in command by now, and Drew Wylie, who was in storming form, cleared McAliskey out of the way at one point with all the ceremony of a snowplough clearing a side-street. However, Tyrone's crowding out of the ball carrier was playing frequent dividends as Monaghan started to look a bit tired.
But then Tyrone failed to score between the 46th and 64th minutes. During that time Monaghan hauled themselves back into contention – to such effect that in the 62nd minute, McManus converted a free to give them the lead for the first time, he and replacement Kieran Hughes having pared back the deficit.
Almost immediately the rug was pulled from under them. Peter Harte, after a quiet opening hour, erupted into action and his run at the Monaghan defence created an opening for Tiernan McCann. The danger appeared to have been averted when Darren Hughes made a saving block, but with another defender in attendance, Sludden came in unmarked and dealt precisely with the ball as it fell for him in front of goal.
Harte added points to bring the margin to three – 1-13 to 0-13 – after McManus kicked his last free, but Monaghan resisted to the end. It took a terrific tackle by the excellent Cavanagh to dispossess replacement Jack McCarron, and still they pressed, with Kieran Hughes and Wylie trimming the lead to a bare minimum – but it wasn't to be.
TYRONE: 1. Niall Morgan; 9. Pádraig Hampsey, 3. Ronan McNamee, 2. Michael McKernan; 5. Tiernan McCann (0-1), 10. Matthew Donnelly (capt.), 7. Peter Harte (0-2, one free); 8. Colm Cavanagh (0-1),13. Cathal McShane (0-1); 6. Frank Burns (0-1),11. Niall Sludden (1-2), 24. Kieran McGeary; 15. Connor McAliskey (0-4, two frees), 14. Richard Donnelly, 17. Lee Brennan (0-1, free). Subs: 19. Harry Loughran for Meyler (half-time), 13. Mark Bradley for McAliskey (55 mins), 4. Rory Brennan for McNamee (51 mins), 20. Conall McCann for R Donnelly (58 mins), 26. Ronan O'Neill for McAliskey (63 mins), 22. Declan McClure for McShane (63 mins).
MONAGHAN: 1. Rory Beggan (0-1, free); 2. Kieran Duffy, 3. Drew Wylie (0-1), Ryan Wylie; 5. Colin Walshe (capt), 6. Vinny Corey, 7. Karl O'Connell; 8. Niall Kearns, 9. Darren Hughes; 11. Shane Carey, 13. Dermot Malone, 14. Fintan Kelly (0-1); 24. Conor McCarthy (0-3), 10. Ryan McAnespie, 15. Conor McManus (0-7, six frees). Subs: 12. Dessie Mone for Malone (46 mins), 21. Kieran Hughes (0-2) for Carey (51 mins), 25. Jack McCarron for Corey (68 mins).
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)