Monaghan had every inch of Kerry’s number until final conclusion was drawn

David Clifford takes the rug out from under Monaghan’s feet with late goal in Clones

David Clifford celebrates after scoring Kerry’s late goal in the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Monaghan at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph:  Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile via Getty Images

David Clifford celebrates after scoring Kerry’s late goal in the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Monaghan at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile via Getty Images

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Monaghan 1-17 Kerry 1-17

The scoreboard has no room for nuance. Nobody pretended here afterwards that David Clifford’s goal in the 74th minute was anything other than an act of pure larceny by Kerry, squeezing a point out of Monaghan and keeping themselves alive going into the final round of the Super 8s. When you look at the Group One table after the first two games, the numbers are the only currency.

If you want to know the story of the game, on the other hand, you had to listen to the silence that greeted the final whistle. A thumping afternoon in Clones, the first properly great game of the Super 8s, ended with a virtual pin-drop. The home support, who had the place more or less to themselves because of the wilfully late throw-in time, sat stunned. Stilled by the dose of reality delivered between the eyes by Clifford’s wonderful finish from a Kieran Donaghy knock-down.

The implications were obvious. Monaghan were in an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in 30 years and then they weren’t. Kerry’s 2018 championship was fizzling out into the ignominy of a dead-rubber final game against Kildare and then it wasn’t. The summer picture for everyone was clear and then it was a muddied blur. What could anyone do only sit and shrug and puff their cheeks.

“Look it, it was very disappointing at the end,” said Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke. “I thought we controlled the game, I thought we played really good football, we defended for our lives and we thought we had it. Kerry had played that ball in a lot during the day and we coped with it – it was just one of those things. It just bounced and one of their boys got on it and stuck it away well.”

‘Stuck it away well’ seriously undersells Clifford’s finish, by the by. He had nothing to aim at and no time to pick his spot but still he was able to cut his shot low through a thicket of defenders after claiming Donaghy’s breaking ball. In among the hubbub, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge that it feels like we’re in at the ground floor here for what could turn out to be one of the great football careers.

Conor McManus scores Monaghan’s goal during the during the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Conor McManus scores Monaghan’s goal during the during the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

But that’s for again. For here and for now, Monaghan can only rue the manner in which they left this behind. Not for the first time – not even for the first time in this championship – they were the better team but couldn’t find the accuracy to make it count.

They got off to a perfect start, Conor McManus skating around Mark Griffin for a goal after 81 seconds. He put them four up soon after with a straight-forward point on the run as Monaghan squeezed Kerry in a vice around midfield. And yet by the sixth minute, O’Rourke’s side had kicked away four more simple chances to build an imposing lead.

Three of Kerry’s first four scores were frees by Seán O’Shea. When he kicked the last of them on 20 minutes, it meant Monaghan were only 1-4 to 0-4 ahead. By that stage, Monaghan had four wides, one dropped short, one off the post and a goal chance lashed over the bar by Niall Kearns. Kerry were in the game only because Monaghan were facilitating them.

The exception, as ever, was McManus. Kerry gifted him not just a one-man full-back line but also, in Griffin, a defender who wouldn’t be considered anything close to their stickiest man-marker. He made commensurate hay, posting 1-5 in the first half alone – 1-3 of it from play. With Karl O’Connell in full road-runner mode and Rory Beggan potting frees from anywhere within 62 metres of the posts, Monaghan had every inch of Kerry’s number.

And yet, they couldn’t put clear water between them and their visitors. Beggan and McManus looked like they had rounded off the first-half scoring with three points in four minutes as time ticked down, pushing Monaghan five ahead. But Clifford, already with a splendid point to his name from early, doubled his tally on the stroke of the break with another well-taken score.

Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy clears the ball during the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Monaghan at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy clears the ball during the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8 game against Monaghan at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

It meant that Kerry went in only four behind, 1-11 to 0-10, and when they came out and rattled over the first three points of the second half through O’Shea (free), Tom O’Sullivan and David Moran, all of a sudden there was only a point in it. By now, Kerry had switched Ronan Shanahan onto McManus and sent Griffon out the pitch. His hard running, coupled with an injection of fizz from half-time sub Micheál Burns, meant that Kerry were a pacier proposition now. When Griffin went off injured on 50 minutes, it was a real loss for Fitzmaurice’s side.

Monaghan pushed on. McManus and Beggan tagged on frees, O’Connell lorried forward to finish off a smart McManus pass. By the 60th minute, Monaghan were 1-16 to 0-14 ahead and looking like they were going to grind Kerry into sand. Dermot Malone was having his best ever game for the county, careering around the place like Scrappy-Doo, looking for action from anyone who fancied it.

But Clifford wouldn’t be cowed. His point on 61 minutes was majestic, an angular strike from out on the left that sailed between the posts to leave four in it again. McManus swapped frees with Stephen O’Brien – three minutes plus injury-time, four between them. Monaghan had no business leaving the escape hatch even that little bit open.

But they did. Four points is two kicks of a ball. Anthony Maher supplied the first of them as the clock turned 70 to make it 1-17 to 0-17 and leaving Monaghan five minutes of added time to see out. They couldn’t do it.

James O’Donoghue was left in his own little acre out around the Monaghan 45, left with time to ping a tailor-made ball in on top of Donaghy with the outside of his left boot. When nothing else would do, he did it. As did Donaghy, poking out a flailing arm in the melee to find Clifford.

The young prince had six Monaghan bodies to beat and incredibly, he found a way.

A deathless, breathless draw, then. All to play for. Somehow.

MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-4, four frees); K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, V Corey, K O’Connell (0-1); N Kearns (0-1), D Hughes (0-1); R McAnespie, S Carey (0-1), D Malone; C McCarthy, F Kelly, C McManus (1-9, five frees).

Subs: K Hughes for McCarthy (43 mins); O Duffy for Carey (57); D Mone for Kelly (67).

KERRY: B Kelly; R Shanahan, M Griffin, T O’Sullivan (0-2); P Murphy (0-1), P Crowley, G White; D Moran (0-1), J Barry; K McCarthy, S O’Shea (0-8, six frees, one 45), S O’Brien (0-1, free); D Clifford (1-3), P Donaghy, P Geaney.

Subs: M Burns for McCarthy (half-time); J O’Donoghue for Geaney (49 mins); B Ó Beaglaoich for Griffin (51); D O’Sullivan for O’Shea (54); A Maher (0-1) for Barry (63); Geaney for O’Sullivan (71).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

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