Monaghan miss gift chance for opening win as Tyrone weather the challenge

Battle of Ulster neighbours played out in awful conditions in Omagh

Tyrone 0-9 Monaghan 0-9

A searching trial by weather in Omagh. The wind blew high and the rain drove low making conditions excruciating. There was even a bright interlude at one stage to raise false hopes but it quickly thought better of it and disappeared.

Just after an hour, Niall Morgan – one of biggest-hitting goalkeepers in the game – saw his kick-out bent by the wind and whirled around to go out of play over the right-hand sideline.

In a way this Division One opener between the neighbouring Ulster counties always carried the strong prospect of a draw. Monaghan and Tyrone drew in last year’s truncated league and there was only a point between them in last summer’s Ulster final.

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then and Sam Maguire is currently in residence in O'Neills Healy Park. For all that they are only recently returned from holidays, the All-Ireland champions were dogged and happy to ride their luck on occasion.

It’s Monaghan who had more reason to be disappointed. They created three decent goal chances but availed of none and their defence was strong and restrictive. With the elements in their favour after half-time they erased a three-point deficit and hit the front but their finishing was poor, amounting to 12 wides.

They had the most conspicuous chance to win in the dying seconds when Joe McQuillan awarded a free when Darragh Canavan was judged to have touched the ball on the ground. We were hitting the 41st minute when Rory Beggan, who had been taking the whole 'fly goalie' fashion to new heights and was already Monaghan's top scorer, stood over the ball.

Instead of hitting his trademark short run-up jab kick, he floated it to Conor Boyle, whose taste for adventure from full back had been well demonstrated, but his kick sacrificed distance for accuracy and it fell into Morgan's grateful grasp.

On a day when all other matches in the division ended all square, it was a statement of how competitive the top flight is going to be this season.

This was a point echoed by Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney when asked had the botched free at the end been greatly disappointing.

“No, the decision was to kick the quick free to Conor Boyle and nine times out of 10 he puts it over the bar but he didn’t put it over. Listen, there’s not really disappointment. We’d be glad to come out of here with a point.

“This is the best Division One campaign in 25 years. This is the cream of the cream in Division One as far as I’m concerned. I think there’s going to be an outrageous battle for teams to stay in it and stay on top of it.”

There was a minute’s silence before the match to honour the memory of those who died on Bloody Sunday in Derry, 50 years ago on Sunday.

Tyrone started a strong 15, including all but four of their starting All-Ireland winning team. Nathan Donnelly of Killylcogher was making his league debut for the champions and he marked the occasion by harnessing the wind perfectly to curl over a point after 16 minutes.

As the first half wore on, the champions found their stride. They were open at the back and Monaghan strung together some eye-catching moves with their defenders pouring forward in support of attacks.

Kieran Duffy kicked their opening point and showed up on the end of a move made by Micheál Bannigan's direct run at the defence only to see his shot come back of the woodwork. Shane Carey also got through but his 23rd-minute shot whistled over the bar.

Tyrone didn't need to be asked twice and by half-time Niall Sludden had kicked a valuable brace of points to define the half-time lead, 0-6 to 0-4.

Last year's devastating bench option Cathal McShane started and paired with All Star Darren McCurry in a two-man full-forward line. Boyle and Ryan Wylie managed impressively but joint-manager Brian Dooher lamented the lack of runners off the full-forward's shoulder.

Given that Tyrone were likely to fade a bit quicker because of their late return from holidays, Monaghan must have fancied the wind-assisted second half with their pre-season having included winning the McKenna Cup.

Instead lively corner back Liam Rafferty got forward a couple of times, including for the opening point of the half. The lead was gradually whittled away, most eye-catchingly by Beggan who spent the half hovering around centrefield like a playmaker and in the 51st minute kicked a point from play.

It was an exciting, helter-skelter conclusion. Conor McManus came on for his first appearance of the season and uncharacteristically missed a free before more recognisably hoisting a great point for what turned out to be the equaliser at 0-9 each.

There was plenty of drama left. Footballer of the Year Kieran McGeary, who had gradually come into the match, got the line for a second yellow, while Tyrone replacement Paul Donaghy had a point disallowed because of a foul on Beggan by Brian Kennedy.

Dooher was positive about the outcome, as Tyrone prepare to visit Armagh – outright leaders after one match, courtesy of their big win in Croke Park – next week.

“The second half got very stormy and you could sense the breeze blowing down the field, it made it very difficult to play good football. Some good points we can take out of it and some things to learn for the next few days and see how we move on to Armagh next week.”

TYRONE: 1 N Morgan (0-1, free); 2 M McKernan, 3 P Hampsey, 4 L Rafferty (0-1); 5 C Meyler, 6 F Burns, 7 P Harte (0-1); 8 C Kilpatrick, 11 R Donnelly; 10 K McGeary, 22 N Donnelly (0-1), 12 N Sludden (0-2); 13 D McCurry (0-2, two frees), 15 C McShane (0-1, free), 19 C Shields.

Subs: 9 B Kennedy for R Donnelly, 24 D Canavan for Shields (both 48 mins), 14 M Donnelly for McCurry (62), 26 P Donaghy for McShane (66).

MONAGHAN: 1 R Beggan (0-3, two frees); 7 R McAnespie (0-1), 3 C Boyle, 4 R Wylie; 5 K Duffy (0-1), 6 D Ward, 20 D Hughes; 21 G Mohan, 9 N Kearns; 10 C McCarthy (0-1), 11 M Bannigan (0-1, free), 12 S Carey (0-1); 13 A Mulligan, 14 J McCarron, 15 A Woods

Subs: 8 K Lavelle for Kearns (half-time), 17 K O'Connell for Mulligan (47 mins), 22 D Garland for McCarron, 26 C McManus (0-1) for Mohan (both 55).

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times

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