Donegal 0-10 Monaghan 1-12
These two. It’s the usual story. Monaghan and Donegal are the couple down the local every Friday night, rowing like blazes and not giving a toss as to who’s hearing.
Just when Donegal thought they were getting their act together – beating the All-Ireland champions, Michael Murphy back in the county colours – up pop Monaghan to remind them that it's a harsh world and there is no love.
Cue 70 minutes of death metal, a vintage show by the Kierans – Duffy and Hughes – and a rainbow appearing over Ballybofey just as the home team lost their first league game in a dozen years at MacCumhaill Park.
Monaghan came to Ballybofey with a ravenous hunger for points and a very clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. Nothing fancy. It was a classic raid, with a high-octane start which seemed to stun the home team and a pragmatic closing period when they introduced Colin Walshe and Fintan Kelly to see the day out. Their brilliant travelling crowd enjoyed every single second of it.
“Really pleased with our application and our purpose and our attitude, driving at Donegal, that was the plan we came here with,” enthused Séamus McEnaney.
“The reality is, as Tyrone found out a couple of weeks ago, when you’re playing Donegal here the wind is really irrelevant to them, they’ve a running game that’s very hard to stop. They brought that to us very well in the second half.
“We missed a couple of opportunities for goals we’d liked to have taken, there should have been more daylight in it with 10 or 15 to go. You’re playing a team of serious quality. We’re not fools, we realise Donegal were missing quite some players today. It’s a very important two points.”
Declan Bonner and Stephen Rochford have two choices when it comes to what to do with the film of the opening half. The first and possibly the most sensible option would be to burn it. Otherwise, they could analyse it until Christmas.
It finished 1-7 to 0-4 at the break and it would have been 2-7 (at least) had Shaun Patton not made a brilliant reflex save when Shane Carey had the goal at his mercy. Patrick McBrearty hit 0-3 from frees: Donegal's lone scorer from play in that first half was Murphy, on the field just seven minutes.
But Donegal were completely snuffed out in that opening period. Monaghan's man-marking was flat-out and incessant and Donegal's playmakers – Ryan McHugh, Peadar Mogan, Eoghan Ban Gallagher – became peripheral figures. Conor O'Donnell, on fire against Tyrone, wasn't so much as given a clean look at the posts.
At one point, desperate to earn his team some forward momentum, Shaun Patton came tearing from his goal and ran in front of the stand as a free man: there was such pressure on Donegal possession that the handpass was overcooked and trickled beyond the goalkeeper.
“Drive it in” yelled a Monaghan voice from the stands as Patton made the trek homeward bound. It wasn’t a bad shout. Although Brendan McCole did well in his individual battle with Conor McManus, Monaghan’s inside line was rampant.
The visitors' overall movement confounded Donegal, with Dessie Ward, a late and hugely valuable inclusion, popping up to take a score and Andrew Woods plucking a high, wayward ball from Aaron Doherty's hands to fire the only goal of the half. Donegal trailed 1-5 to 0-1 after 20 minutes.
They gambled hugely on Rory Beggan's kick-out, leaving the rampaging Gary Mohan and Woods to operate as free men behind the Donegal press. It left them terribly exposed. And they naively persisted with their intricate looping passing game while Monaghan tore through them in sharp incisions: straight lines, smart angles and a hunger for bracing hits that resounded around the ground. The home team couldn't live with their intensity.
It couldn’t get any worse for Donegal and it didn’t. But it didn’t get much better either. They started McHugh at full forward but had no idea how to get the ball to him: the substitution of the Kilcar man after 50 minutes was the most worrying moment of the day for Donegal. If they are to thrive this summer, they will need his spark of genius.
With Murphy on the field, Donegal had a more cohesive structure and began to warm to the day and reduced the deficit to just two points after 54 minutes. But they managed just one more point over the closing 25 minutes.
It’s a criminally poor return. The Monaghan defensive unit – all bar McManus for long periods – were perfectly content to let Donegal attempt to unpick them with their incessant hand-pass on the loop game. The sooner Donegal realise the limitations of that game, the better for them. Three times they kicked direct early ball and three times, they were rewarded. They even managed to rip through the Monaghan centre when Mogan played a simple reverse handpass to Gallagher, who was running a straight, hard line. The abiding caution of Donegal’s attacking play – always looking for the perfect ball – played into Monaghan’s hands.
In contrast, the Farney men moved the ball to the business end of the field with manic efficiency. The hugely influential Mohan, a late change to the listed programme, might have capped a fine day with at least one goal: he was foiled by Patton’s cat-like reflexes. Late scores for Kelly and the evergreen McManus ended the resistance.
Still, there is something unnerving for Monaghan in the way that Murphy’s arrival once again entirely switched the momentum of the day. For all of the virtues of their performance here, they almost allowed Donegal back into it.
Donegal, meantime, are doing a masterful job of disguising their true intent for the All-Ireland championship. All we know is that if these two meet again, it will be the usual – hair and nails flying.
DONEGAL: 1 S Patton; 2 C Ward, 3 B McCole, 4 S McMenamin; 5 R McHugh, 6 EB Gallagher, 6 O McFadden-Ferry; 8 H Patton, 9 J McGee (0-1); 14 C O'Donnell, 11 P Mogan, 12 C Thompson; 13 P McBrearty (0-5, five frees), 25 A Doherty (0-1), 26 C McGuinness.
Subs: 22 M Murphy (0-3, two frees) for 12 C Thompson (27 mins),19 E O'Donnell for 26 C McGuinness (h-t), 24 E Doherty fo 22 D O'Baoill (40), 17 P Brennan for O McFadden-Ferry, 27 J Brennan for 5 R McHugh (both 50).
MONAGHAN: 1 R Beggan (0-1, free); 2 K Duffy (0-2), 3 C Boyle, 4 R Wylie; 5 R McAnespie, 6 K Lavelle, 26 D Ward (0-1); 8 D Hughes, 9 N Kearns; 10 C McCarthy (0-1), 11 M Bannigan (0-1), 12 S Carey; 13 A Woods (1-1, one free), 14 K Hughes, 15 C McManus (0-4, three frees, mark).
Subs: 9 N Kearns for 8 D Hughes, 19 C Walshe for 26 D Ward (both 60 mins), 17 F Kelly (0-1) for 6 K Lavelle (61), 23 K Lavelle for 14 K Hughes (66) , 7 K O'Connell for 5 R McAnespie (69), 24 S Jones for 13 A Woods (71).
Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone).