Monaghan’s bench make the difference as Down bow out

Level at half-time, Conor McManus leads scoring spree in second half at Croke Park

Monaghan 1-24 Down 1-16

Once bitten, twice shy; and Monaghan – ultimately when it mattered more – got revenge on their Ulster conquerors Down in an entertaining All-Ireland football championship qualifier that only swung their way with a second-half clearance of the substitute bench that yielded rich dividends.

After chasing shadows in the summer sun for a large part of a first half in which Down showed greater enthusiasm for the task at hand, Monaghan’s experience and greater physicality ensured there would be no further woes to add to a catalogue of past failings experienced on the Croke Park turf.

Locked together at 1-9 apiece at half-time, with Down probably feeling short-changed for their Trojan efforts, Monaghan were transformed in the second half with the introduction of their subs – none more so than the impressive Conor McCarthy, who treated himself to four points from play in putting down a marker of inclusion from the start the next day in the quarter-finals – proving to be the difference.


And although quiet for a long period in play, Conor McManus’s accurate free-taking proved vitally important in punishing any Down indiscipline. McManus’s tally reached double-digits for his day’s work and, as the match opened up and Monaghan pulled clear, his influence extended beyond free-taking duties as he got constantly found space, got on the ball and laid it off with that wise head of his.

There was a cutting edge to Down’s play in that first half, almost as if it were they – not Monaghan – who had a point to prove for what had happened in the earlier Ulster engagement.

Conor Maginn persistently looked for the ball and, when he had it, either to attack the space or to lay off. Connaire Harrison escaped the shackles of one, two and sometimes even three markers, to show his worth. His third point from play, in the 17th minute, left Monaghan full back Drew Wylie falling to the turf on the seat of his pants as Harrison weaved one way and then another before firmly planting the ball over. That effort put Down three points ahead, 0-7 to 0-4.

Monaghan seemed surprisingly lethargic and at times unsure of what to do in that opening period, with McManus’s free-taking their primary source of scores.

Monaghan's 26th-minute goal came from an unlikely source. Corner back Fintan Kelly needed a passport he'd wandered so far forward from his defensive position but when Shane Carey cleverly played the roving defender in for a shot on goal Kelly finished with aplomb. And, almost unsure of how to accept a goalscorer's acclaim, he waved away any congratulations and raced back to more familiar territory in defence.

Six minutes later, though, that Monaghan defence was shredded like a razor ripping through paper. A high ball into the danger zone was touched on by the impressive Maginn to Harrison and, despite a fast-advancing goalkeeper in Rory Beggan and defender Kieran Duffy, the Down full forward drove low into the net. It took a left-footed free from Kieran Hughes to bring Monaghan back to parity ahead of Maurice Deegan blowing the whistle for half-time.

Monaghan had battled hard – with McManus's free-taking vital – to stay with their provincial conquerors in that opening half but it was a different story on the resumption. Owen Duffy and Jack McCarron were brought into the full-forward line at the break and shortly after McCarthy – a real livewire with an eye for point-scoring – was added to bring further firepower to launch one attack after another at the unpopulated Hill 16 end of the pitch.

And the critical period proved to be between the 45th minute and the 50th minute when Monaghan took a hold on the match: Ryan Wylie, a corner back who replicated his fellow defender Kelly's boldness of the first half in venturing forward, fisted over a point from a tight angle to start what proved to be a sequence of five unanswered points. McCarron, McCarthy, McManus and McCarthy again– all from play – added points that opened up a five points gap that would provide too great for Down to claw back.

Down had a couple of goal chances – from Maginn and Harrison – but Monaghan’s defence had tightened up considerably from their first-half laxness and Malachy O’Rourke’s men moved onwards to an All-Ireland quarter-final back at HQ next Saturday.

MONAGHAN: 1 Rory Beggan; 2 Fintan Kelly (1-0), 3 Drew Wylie (0-1), 4 Ryan Wylie; 5 Colin Walshe (0-1), 17 Kieran Duffy, 7 Karl O'Connell; 8 Kieran Hughes (0-4, one free), 9 Darren Hughes (0-2); 10 Gavin Doogan, 11 Dermot Malone, 12 Shane Carey; 23 Ryan McAnespie, 26 Darren Freeman, 15 Conor McManus (0-10, nine frees).

Subs: 13 Owen Duffy (0-1) for Malone (half-time), 14 Jack McCarron (0-1) for Carey (half-time), 25 Conor McCarthy (0-4) for Freeman (46 mins), 20 Vinny Corey for Walshe (62 mins), 21 Dessie Mone for O'Connell (68 mins).

DOWN: 1 Michael Cunningham; 2 Niall McParland, 3 Gerard McGovern, 4 Darren O'Hagen; 5 Darragh O'Hanlon (0-3, frees), 6 Conaill McGovern, 7 Caolan Mooney (0-1); 8 Peter Turley, 9 Niall Donnelly; 10 Kevin McKernan (0-2), 11 Conor Maginn (0-2), 12 Shay Millar (0-1); 22 Seán Dornan, 14 Connaire Harrison (1-3), 15 Ryan Johnston.

Subs: 13 Jerome Johnston (0-3, one free) for Dornan (49 mins), 25 Aidan Carr for Turley (52 mins), 17 David McKibbin (0-1) for Millar (58 mins), 19 Mark Poland for Maginn (58 mins), 20 Donal O'Hare for Mooney (68 mins), 18 Joe Murphy for R Johnston (75 mins).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times