Monaghan leave Cavan all at sea again in Breffni
Width of a post denies Cavan a replay as Ryan Connolly’s shot hits the woodwork
Conor Moynagh reacts to Ryan Connolly’s miss at the end of the game. Photograph: Tom Beary/Inpho
Monaghan 1-15 Cavan 0-15
Neighbours may be defined by their connection, but Monaghan continue to keep Cavan apart. Only this time by the width of the post.
Because having huffed and puffed to get themselves in front, Monaghan very nearly had their advantage blown away when substitute Ryan Connolly, with the proverbial last kick of the game, saw his thundering shot at goal come howling back off the post.
The weather was the natural theme of the day.
At times it was like sailing on the high seas, one wind-aided team battling the elements against the other. Cavan had that advantage for the first half but only transferred it into a two point lead, never looking like enough to see them safely home.
Monaghan duly opened their sails on the turn for the shore, a beautifully placed goal from Conor McManus on 60 minutes opening some breathing space, and ultimately sealing their semi-final date with Down.
Still Cavan never gave up the chase, and Connolly’s goal chance - in the fourth and final minute of injury time - would not have been an underserved equaliser.
And Connolly knew it - the 20-year-old instantly falling to the ground and burying his face in his hands. Not that there was a massive appetite in the air for a reprise.
After their 0-7 to 0-7 draw in the league earlier this year, the sleep scientists in attendance that day reckoned they’d hit on a cure for insomnia. This wasn’t quite as tiresome to watch, although still mostly in harmony with the grey, rainy sky.
Monaghan, winners of two Ulster titles in the last four years, had only a point to spare over Cavan in their last two championship meetings, and in every sense this was just as close. Considering Cavan have now gone 22 years without scoring a championship goal against Monaghan, that last-minute missed effort by Connolly was worthy of his proper lamenting.
“I was thinking ‘right time, right place, and this is his moment’,” said Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan, on his maiden championship voyage. “But that was it, yeah, the width of the post.
“But look, I thought Ryan Connolly was superb when he came on, a fantastic young man, and that was his first taste of Ulster championship football. We’d a half chance before, but we never gave up, and that’s the outstanding thing for me about this team. Even when Conor’s goal went in, playing against that wind, we kept at it, and that’s class, from my side of things. It gives me a lot to work on when I’ve a group of guys that refuse to give up.”
Cavan’s 10-week lay-off since the league had been a worry, but even with the wind advantage they played most of the football in the first half, Monaghan spending much of it going forward in reverse.
“This was all about getting the best out of Cavan,” added McGleenan, when asked if Monaghan held some sort of psychological advantage. “I’m five or six months into this journey, and I’m delighted with what I’ve seen today. We’re not a million miles away. We created two or three goal chances, and they just created the one, opened us up, and in fairness to Conor, an outstanding player, he made it count
“We had to take one of ours. I actually figured that 15, 16 scores would win this game, and 16 scores won it. But it wasn’t us. I would still have huge confidence in this team. We maybe took a few bad options, but that’s something we can improve on, and develop. I wouldn’t say fix.
“Monaghan are one of the benchmarks in Ulster football, and I think we’ll have learned a lot from that game, learned a lot more about each other, and what we’re capable of.”
Cavan have now gone 16 years without a championship win over their neighbours, and Malachy O’Rourke, in his fifth season as Monaghan manager, was relieved to get out of here with another victory.
“We just did enough to win, and there’s no doubt Conor’s goal gave us that wee bit of breathing space,” he said. “We knew we had to be patient, that it would come down to the last 10 minutes, and if we just keep working at the scores then they’d come. And that’s the way it turned out.
“But I felt we could have won it a bit more comfortably, had we taken a few more of our chances, and not given away so many frees. So you always leave yourself a little open like that if you don’t close it out. But we’ll gladly take that win. Cavan were well up for it, and this is always a hard place to win a game.”
It makes for Monaghan’s sixth successive year Ulster semi-final: McManus continues to be pivotal to their attack, his goal deftly set up by Owen Duffy, who himself finished with four points from play. McManus wasn’t at his sharpest with the placed ball, sending four wide, and Duffy was probably the leading contender for man-of-the-match before a black card in the dying minutes possibly changed some minds.
Conor McCarthy was also excellent when sprung from the bench as Monaghan looked for more scoring options; Jack McCarron, who had hit 3-31 in the league but held scoreless against Fermanagh in their quarter-final, only managed one from play here.
Cavan, however, had only been averaging 29 per cent of scores from play so far this year, and that trend continued, Cian Mackey the only one of their starting forwards to score from open play, Nial McDermott and Seanie Johnston only pointing from frees, although Liam Buchanan and Gearoid McKiernan both fired over big scores.
Monaghan’s scoring was a little more erratic than of late, Rory Beggan hitting three of his three placed balls, two into the wind.
“I thought we rushed things a wee bit, in the first half,” added O’Rourke. “But yeah, we’ve come through some tough games in the Ulster championship the last few years, and that stood to us. Down are waiting for us now, and that’s going to be another tough challenge again.”
Monaghan: 1 R Beggan (0-3, two 45s, one free); 4 R Wylie, 3 D Wylie, 2 F Kelly; 9 K O’Connell, 6 V Corey, 5 C Walsh (capt) (0-1); 8 K Hughes, 7 N McAdam; 10 G Doogan, 17 K Duffy, 23 O Duffy (0-4); 14 J McCarron (0-1), 15 C McManus (1-4, two frees), 22 D Malone. Subs: 24 R McAnespie for Doogan (half time), 13 C McCarthy (0-2) for Malone (42 mins), 12 D Ward for Duffy (52 mins), 19 D Mone for D Wylie (68 mins), 21 D Hughes for McCarron (68 mins), 11 S Carey for Duffy (72 mins, black card)
Cavan: 1 R Galligan; 2 P Faulkner, 3 K Clarke (capt), 4 N Murray; 5 J McEnroe (0-1); 6 C Moynagh (0-1), 7 G Smith; 8 L Buchanan (0-1), 9 G McKiernan (0-1); 10 C Mackey (0-3), 11 C Madden, 12 M Reilly (0-1, a free); 13 N Clerkin, 14 N McDermott (0-3, all frees), 15 S Johnston (0-4, all frees). Subs: 20 C Brady for Madden (26 mins), 26 D McVeety for Buchanan (half time), 22 R Connolly for McDermott (53 mins), 23 J Dillon for Clerkin, 17 J McLoughlin for McEnroe (both 64 mins), C O’Reilly for Murray (72 mins).
Referee: Patrick Neilan (Roscommon)