Rejuvenated Down stop Monaghan in their tracks

Darragh O’Hanlon’s second half penalty puts Down in their first Ulster final since 2012

Down 1-14 Monaghan 0-15

When the pressure came on and experience was shouting, Down somehow reversed all the psychology behind this game and dumped Monaghan out of the Ulster football championship - setting up their first final appearance in five years in the process.

Because for Down it had seemed like they had put all mind over matter, defying all predictions - possibly even their own - to give Monaghan a lesson in self-belief.

Whatever doubts they may have harboured never showed, especially in the frantic finish, as they closed out the game in deservingly cool fashion.


Just reward too for Down manager, Eamonn Burns, in his second season with Down, who went 2016 without a victory of any sort; they came in fresh from their first championship win in four years, over Armagh - and soon picked up exactly where they left off there.

Down last reached the Ulster final in 2012, losing to Donegal, and this with this they set up a final showdown against Tyrone on July 16th

Here, and beyond all expectations, again including their own, found themselves seven points up, five minutes into the second half, thanks in the main to a net-smashing penalty from Darragh O’Hanlon.

They would only add two more scores before the end, another free from O’Hanlon, and the late, late insurance point from substitute Donal O’Hare, in the sixth and last minute of injury time. It was enough to cause one of the true surprises, even in the minefield of Ulster, of the football championship.

Down, who last beat Monaghan in the 2012 Ulster semi-final, were never one bit daunted by the challeng

It came after a frantic climax when both teams teased and then tested each other in the closing moments, Monaghan chasing hard for an equaliser, Jack McCarron squandering one last chance to do exactly that when sending his free wide, on 74 minutes.

Since taking charge in 2013, Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke had guided them to three of the last four Ulster finals, wining in 2013 and 2015, and losing in 2014, but all that experience deserted them when they needed it most.

Fast, furious and at times defying the logic of Ulster football, Down were soon setting the tempo in the first half - to either the delight, or surprise, of the 13,396 in attendance.

Down, who last beat Monaghan in the 2012 Ulster semi-final, were never one bit daunted by the challenge, leading from midway through the first half until the end.

Five minutes after the restart came the defining score: Ryan Johnston latched onto a sloppy kick-out from Rory Beggan, passed off to Niall Donnelly, who promptly charged back at Beggan. Instantly crowded, then hauled down by Colin Walshe, it served as the siren call for O'Hanlon's penalty.

Earlier, Monaghan’s first four shots at goal all drifted wide, a tell-tale sign this would not be plain sailing. Corner back Drew Wylie had to come up to score their first, after eight minutes, although Down were immediately on level par.

Full forward Conor Harrison, testing every handful inch of the man-marking skills of Drew Wylie, scored their first, and with that the momentum swung back and forth like a large electrified pendulum.

First Monaghan, slick passing from young Conor McCarthy to Darren Hughes - both late additions to the starting team - rewarded with a point, another for Jack McCarron soon after.

Only Down soon levelled and then took a leap of faith - four frees from Darragh O’Hanlon the platform, sending off a brilliant succession of five unanswered points, including a sweet gem from close to the right sideline from Kevin McKernan, putting Down four ahead, 0-9 to 0-5.

Caolan Mooney’s piercing runs from centre back were the root of others, one deftly finished by Conor Maginn, restoring their advantage to four.

Then, as if cue, up stepped McCarron and McManus, tagging on scores just before the break, but they left themselves with too much to do, especially after Down hit them with 1-2 after the restart. Points from Darran Hughes and further efforts from McCarron and McManus closed the gap to one, but they could never get level, before O’Hare found himself in acres of room to close the surprise deal.

DOWN: M Cunningham (0-1, a 45); G McGovern, C McGovern, D O'Hagan (capt); D O'Hanlon (1-5, a penalty, five frees), C Mooney, N McParland; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan (0-2), C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston, C Harrison (0-3), R Johnston.

Subs: D O’Hare (0-1) for Harrison (52 mins), J Murphy for McGovern (58 mins), D McKibbin for Mooney (65 mins), A Carr for Turley (65 mins), M Poland for R Johnston (68 mins)

MONAGHAN: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie (0-1); C Walsh (capt), V Corey, N McAdam; K Hughes; K Hughes (0-1), K O'Connell; D Hughes (0-2), K Duffy, O Duffy (0-1); C McCarthy (0-1), J McCarron (0-3,two frees), C McManus (0-6, three frees).

Subs: R McAnespie for McAdam (41 mins), D Ward for O Duffy, D Mone for K Duffy (both 47 mins), D Malone for McCarthy (55 mins).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath) (replaced by Paddy Neilan, Roscommon, half time).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics