Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10: Anyone who thought Monaghan's Ulster title victory last summer was a bit of a fluke got their answer here in Croke Park as they once again out-classed Donegal, this time to claim the Division Two title of the Allianz Football League.
If anything it was even more convincing than their Ulster final win last July – which saw Monaghan stun then All-Ireland champions Donegal. Here, they slowly ground them down over the 70 minutes, and even if a penalty converted by Michael Murphy brought Donegal on level terms midway through the second half, there was no disputing Monaghan's deserved victory in the end.
The stand-out score was a brilliantly finished goal from Kieran Hughes, on 56 minutes, following an amazing succession of passes, the last one coming from substitute Ryan Wylie. After that Monaghan made sure there was no way back for Donegal, veteran midfielder Dick Clerkin also coming off the bench to further impose their superiority.
Donegal's cause certainly wasn't helped by the loss of midfielder Rory Kavanagh to a straight red card on 40 minutes, following a strange off-the-ball foul where Kavanagh, holding his loosened boot in his hand, then put that boot into the groin of Darren Hughes, who needless to say fell to the ground in agony.
But Donegal looked to have overcome that loss not long after when Ryan McHugh was pulled down, apparently just outside the area by Darren Hughes, who was then black-carded. Up stepped Murphy to blast home the penalty and with that Donegal were level, 1-8 to 0-11.
Although not for long: Monaghan were lording possession throughout the field, and the goal from Hughes which put them back in front was both deftly constructed and finished. It all made for a highly satisfying result for manager Malachy O’Rourke, who won the division three title this time last year, before going to capture that Ulster title.
Both teams started more speculatively then spectacularly, although Monaghan soon turned on a little more style: midfielder Darren Hughes hit two big points from the outside of his boot, both from distance, and so too did Paddy McKenna. Kieran Hughes also had the first sniff of a goal, although couldn’t quite lick it – his shot skimming over the cross for a point instead.
All this contrasted with a lethargic, somewhat disjointed and frequently inaccurate Donegal in the first half: three frees from Colm McFadden and two from Murphy helped keep them in contention, but they were surprisingly slack from play, dropping several shots short, with Paddy McBrearty and Murphy the only forwards to score from play in the first half.
Still Donegal were just three points down at the break, trailing Monaghan 0-10 to 0-7. Monaghan did have the benefit of the breeze in that first half, and even playing against that breeze in the second half, ultimately proved unstoppable.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-1, a 45) ; D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe; D Mone (0-1) , K Duffy, P McKenna (0-2) ; D Hughes (0-2) , O Lennon; D Malone, S Gollogly, F Kelly (0-1) ; P Finlay (0-3, two frees) , K Hughes (1-1) , C McManus (0-3) . Subs: D Clerkin (0-1) for Lennon (37 mins, inj), R Wylie for Walshe (Black card, 54 mins), C McGuinness (0-1) for Gollogly (57 mins), S Carey for Malone (67 mins), J McCarron for Finlay (71 mins), K O'Connell for D Hughes (72 mins, black card).
DONEGAL: P Durcan; N McGee, L Keaney, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; O Mac Niallais (0-1) , R McHugh, C Toye; P McBrearty (0-1) , C McFadden (0-4, three frees) , M Murphy (1-4, a penalty, three frees) . Subs: N Gallagher for McElhiney, M McHugh for Toye (both 28 mins), C Classon for Mac Niallais (46 mins), D O'Connor for R McHugh (58 mins), D Walsh for Keaney (65 mins), D Molloy for McFadden (68 mins, black card).