Monaghan made to work before pulling clear of Fermanagh
Visitors give a good account of themselves in Clones but can’t keep pace after the break
Monaghan’s Jack McCarron is challenged by Fermanagh’s Ryan McCluskey during his side’s Ulster Championship win in Clones. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Among the more laudable traits Monaghan have developed during Malachy O’Rourke’s time in charge has been an impressive facility for playing the flat-track bully. In the two years before he arrived, Monaghan lost championship games to Offaly, Laois and Down and only just wobbled past Antrim. If they built their reputation on being a team who was afraid of nobody, it was equally no stretch to say few were afraid of them.
You wouldn’t say Fermanagh played with any particular fear in Clones on Saturday night. But as Pete McGrath conceded afterwards, there came a time in the game where Monaghan eased into a gear that Fermanagh just don’t have in them. As soon as both sides realised this undeniable truth, the game ended as a contest.
With 43 minutes on the clock, Monaghan led by just a point, 1-9 to 1-8. Already without long-term absentee Darren Hughes, they had lost his brother Kieran to a black card after just seven minutes and as a result had ceded midfield almost entirely to Fermanagh’s Eoin Donnelly. That platform, coupled with some careless covering in the Monaghan defence that allowed Ryan Lyons to ghost in untouched for a first-half goal, meant that McGrath’s side were full value for their proximity.
“The first half had gone very well for us,” said McGrath afterwards. “When we didn’t get the early scores after half-time and they did, then the gap began to appear and then the gap began to widen. And then it was going to be very difficult against an experienced team like that, against a very physically imposing team like that and a very well-drilled team like that.
“They were able to bring on experienced men off the bench who injected energy and pace. And we just don’t have those resources at the moment. We don’t. I think the effort that our fellas put in in the first half maybe to some extent fatigued them in the second half. Ideally you would have men coming in to your team maybe 10 minutes into the second half to keep that effort going and at this point in time we just don’t have the resources to do that. We don’t and that’s just a fact of life.”
The bareness of the Fermanagh cupboard was such that they were only able to name one recognised defender among their 11 substitutes. By contrast, the level of relative plenty in the Monaghan ranks meant that they saw five points from play scored by subs, including an eye-catching cameo from Owen Duffy whose three points in 10 minutes on his introduction were exactly the gust the Monaghan sails had been waiting on.
In the space of 20 minutes, Monaghan rained down 10 points on the spin and the game began to look more like what it was - a solid Division One team with ambitions against a side just relegated from Division Two whose hopes were fizzling by a minute. Conor McManus and Jack McCarron both slung over booming points in this run, confident scores that clearly came from Monaghan taking a stranglehold on the game.
The peril for Rourke’s side from here on out is whether or not they’ll be able to eke out enough scores to come through the tougher assignments. For the first half here and the early dustings of the second, McManus and McCarron were supremely well shackled. Their goal came from a botched Fermanagh kick-out which McCarron fed to McManus for a simple finish but otherwise neither of them were much involved.
Instead, Colin Walshe chipped in with two from wing-back and Conor McCarthy magicked up a brilliant score all by himself. But it was never simple for Monaghan in that spell. The pervasive notion that Fermanagh needn’t have bothered turning up clearly rankled with the visitors and they played with the appropriate neighbourly disrespect. The Lyons goal on 22 minutes came after an incisive Paul McCusker run and when Lee Cullen nailed a fine score soon after, McGrath’s team were 1-5 to 1-4 ahead.
Though Monaghan pressed on to score four of the last five points before the break, it didn’t feel like a done deal from there. But when the temperature rose and Monaghan put on the squeeze, they didn’t allow Fermanagh out of their own half. In all, Monaghan finished up with 13 different scorers, with once-in-a-blue-mooners like Gavin Doogan, Fintan Kelly and, to great yahooing in the crowd, the returning Dessie Mone all getting brackets by their name.
Fermanagh don’t have that sort of range in their panel. To O’Rourke’s credit, Monaghan never used to either.
“In fairness, we always thought Fermanagh would be very competitive,” said the Monaghan manager. “We started off fairly well but they were good all over the field and I thought we were giving them too much space. They were able to come up the field very easy and we said that we need to push up on them more in the second half. We did that, got a few crucial turnovers and were able to capitalise on that inside.”
Monaghan: Rory Beggan; Fintan Kelly (0-1), Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Colin Walshe (0-2), Vinny Corey, Neil McAdam (0-1); Kieran Hughes (0-1), Karl O’Connell (0-1); Gavin Doogan (0-1), Shane Carey (0-1), Dessie Ward; Conor McCarthy (0-2), Jack McCarron (0-2, 0-1 free), Conor McManus (1-3, 0-1 free). Subs: R McAnespie for Hughes (black card), 7 mins; Owen Duffy (0-3) for Carey, 42 mins; Dermot Malone (0-1) for Ward, 50 mins; Kieran Duffy for Corey, 58 mins; Dessie Mone (0-1) for Kelly, 63 mins; Michael Bannigan for McCarthy, 67 mins
Fermanagh: Thomas Treacy; Mickey Jones, Che Cullen, Cian McManus; Aidan Breen (0-2), Ryan McCluskey, Conor P Murphy; Eoin Donnelly, Lee Cullen (0-1); Barry Mulrone, Ryan Lyons (1-0), Paul McCusker; Kane Connor, Seán Quigley (0-2, 0-1 free), Tomás Corrigan (0-5, 0-4 frees). Subs: Ryan Jones for Connor, 49 mins; Eddie Courtney (0-1) for Quigley, 54 mins; Cathal Beacom for Lyons, 59 mins; Darryl Keenan for McCusker, 59 mins
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary)