Plain sailing for Monaghan as they cruise into Ulster semi-finals

Another uneven match in the provincial championships saw Down crushed in Clones

Kieran Hughes of Monaghan shoots past Joe Murphy of Down in their Ulster SFC quarter-final. Photo: Andrew Paton/Inpho

Kieran Hughes of Monaghan shoots past Joe Murphy of Down in their Ulster SFC quarter-final. Photo: Andrew Paton/Inpho

 

Monaghan 2-22 Down 0-9

Here remains the Ulster football championship just not as middle aged folk remember it.

The any given Sunday theory sounded more delusional than logical when uttered by Down manager Eamon Burns.

“We feel on any given day, and obviously today wasn’t one of them, we can compete with anyone,” Burns stated after a 19 point humiliation saw them go the way of Armagh and Derry.

Long before the hour mark, 12,782 northern souls were barely audible as Monaghan had so cleanly broken Down spirits to stroll into a semi-final against whoever climbs out of the Donegal and Fermanagh scrap next Sunday.

“Look it, from here on in it will be tight,” promised Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke.

Maybe so, but Ulster minefield talk has so obviously turned towards a cliché, stock response.

“We talked about that during the week,” agreed the excellent Monaghan sweeper Darren Hughes. “We knew we were the better team and unless you come out and perform you are not going to win. We knew we just had to perform.”

This is the difference now. Monaghan believe they will perform every time.

After so many mismatches this summer, the hope entering St Tiernach’s Park was for a badly needed jolt to the championship. But Down failed to deliver a basic requirement to ensure any sporting contest. They could not replicate what Conor McManus so languidly achieved; curling frees between the white polls painted black atop.

Sounds easy. Eight first half wides ensured these former Ulster aristocrats would not upset the current pecking order. Monaghan led 0-9 to 0-6 at the turn despite a pressing breeze. This was mainly achieved by putting enormous pressure on Stephen Kane’s kick-outs.

That is how Down cracked into pieces.

McManus need not touch the ball until the 17th minute. By then Down had a double figure lead, 0-4 to 0-2, without truly threatening the champions.

Darragh O’Hanlon built the foundations for an unlikely upset with two long range frees from central positions. Conor Maginn also served up a brace of points. But that was the limit of their consistent accuracy.

Kiernan Hughes, moved inside as brother Darren dropped deep, had kept Monaghan ticking over early with scores. Then McManus found his rhythm. All four first-half frees looked well wide until taking a gliding turn.

Down suffered for such a lack of expertise. But they were only hanging in there anyway. It was a mirage of competitive football. Nothing more.

Donal O’Hare duly replaced Barry O’Hagan, another free taking culprit, and pointed two minutes into the second half only for Ryan McAnespie to instantly respond for Monaghan before departing after shipping a heavy knock.

Then a rarity: referee Conor Lane brandished a black card in championship. Travelling Down people felt aggrieved due to earlier Monaghan fouls and a perceived dive by Kieran Hughes but Peter Turley was rightly dismissed for mauling Darren Hughes.

The mortal McManus missed the resulting free. Of course the Monaghan captain is anything but. His mighty score from wide left saw Down take a knee.

More confidence sapping Kane kick-outs, 13 were lost, coupled with fierce Farney fielding gifted Karl O’Connell what seemed the killer score. 43 minutes played and it was 0-12 to 0-7.

Total capitulation followed as Conor McCarthy, on debut, was next to point after dashing on the end of more sloppily turned over possession.

It was only a matter of time before Kieran Hughes paid no heed to white flags and drilled a shot low to the far corner.

Owen Duffy came in to plunder a second goal.

Shooting practice followed.

O’Rourke emptied the bench with veterans like Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay galloping into the fray as Monaghan showed the widening gulf between a county that laid seeds in the previous decade and another that so clearly did not.

Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan currently keep Ulster from going the way of the Leinster championship but the meek capitulations of Armagh, Derry and now Down tell us the poor are only getting poorer.

“We are not dead,” Burns added unconvincingly. “We have another go at in a couple of weeks time...it’s not the end of the world.”

Surely Burns can see the gulf is widening to unprecedented levels, certainly in modern times? “Well, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you if I didn’t think we could close the gap.”

Burns, yet to oversee victory against inter-county opposition in 2016, even added: “Confidence comes from winning games, we came here full of confidence.”

Monaghan: 1 R Beggan (0-3, three frees); 4 R Wylie, 3 D Wylie, 19 K Duffy; 6 V Corey, 2 C Walshe, 5 D Mone; 14 D Hughes, 7 K O’Connell (0-1); 10 S Carey (0-1), 11 D Malone (0-1), 12 R McAnespie (0-1); 24 C McCarthy, 9 K Hughes (1-2), 15 C McManus (capt, 0-8, six frees). Substitutions: 13 O Duffy (1-0) for R McAnespie (50 mins), 18 F Kelly for D Mone (52 mins), 21 P Finlay for K Hughes, 25 D McKenna (0-2) for C McCarthy (0-2, one free, both 58 mins), 20 D Clerkin (0-1) for V Corey (62 mins), 23 T Kerr for S Carey (65 mins).

Down: 1 S Kane; 3 G McGovern, 13 C McGovern, 4 D O’Hagan; 6 A Carr, 7 D O’Hanlon (0-2, two frees), 2 G Collins; 8 P Turley, 9 K McKernan (capt); 5 D McKibbin, 11 M Poland (0-1), 12 J Murphy; 15 B O’Hagan (0-1), 14 C McGovern, 10 C Maginn (0-2). Substitutions: 25 D O’Hare (0-2, both frees) for B O’Hagan (half-time), 17 H Brown for P Turley (40 mins, black), 22 P Devlin (0-1, free) for J Murphy (47 mins), 23 J Flynn for D McKibbin (55 mins), 20 D Turley for G Collins (62 mins), 18 R Mellon for C Maginn (67 mins).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

Attendance: 12,782.

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