Tyrone do it the hard way as they claim Ulster honours

Never-say-die Monaghan’s second-half comeback comes up agonisingly short

Tyrone 0-16 Monaghan 0-15

Tyrone’s ceaseless whip-hand over Monaghan continues. For the fourth time in nine seasons, they ended their near neighbours’ interest in the championship, stopping them dead in their tracks with a one-point win.

It turned out to be far more frantic and close-run than Tyrone would have liked but they all count the same.

It earned them their 16th Ulster title, drawing them level with Monaghan in second spot on the northern province's roll of honour.


Considering they did it despite a Covid outbreak that robbed them of Frank Burns, Tiernan McCann, Rory Brennan and Richie Donnelly – as well as co-manager Feargal Logan – they will feel it was hard-earned.

All the more so given they withstood a second-half fightback from Monaghan having led 0-11 to 0-6 at half-time.

"We're relieved after that second half," said Brian Dooher afterwards.

“We’re just glad to get out of here with a win. For long periods there, especially at the end up, the way Monaghan were coming at us we just struggled to contain them. We were just a bit disjointed ourselves. It was a tough second half but thankfully the boys dug deep enough and just managed to chip in a few scores here and there to keep us ticking over. That’s ultimately what brought us through at the end up.

“Monaghan, to be fair to them, came and pressed us hard in the second half, played with a lot more intensity. They really asked hard questions of us. We were slow to get started. We didn’t start the second half with the same purpose and intensity as we did in the first half.

“Any day that happens, you’re handing the other team momentum and Monaghan turned that momentum into their purple patch which lasted a long time for them. We chipped in with a few scores and we should have had more but out handling and our general skillset wasn’t good enough at times. We’re just glad to get through it. We have a lot to work on.”

Ain’t that the truth.

One of the hoariest clichés in the GAA is a manager puffing his cheeks and declaring that what he saw out there won’t be good enough the next day. It’s hard to imagine it ever being truer than it was on Saturday night. Monaghan were a beaten docket at half-time but still had their chances to level matters and possibly even kick on and win it in the closing stages. They missed a bagful – Kerry won’t show anything like that level of mercy.

As Ulster finals go, this sure wasn't Clones. There was none of the usual boot, bollock and bite of the northerners' big day out. Even the Croke Park seagulls, who usually only turn up when the stadium is empty, were in circling the pitch at half-time. Maybe they figured like the rest of us that the game was over at that stage. Tyrone were 0-11 to 0-6 up and full value for it.

Monaghan were passive and stand-offish throughout that opening half, allowing Tyrone room to shoot from long range at will.

Pádraig Hampsey sallied up under no pressure to spear a point with the outside of his right foot, Michael McKernan slid in unopposed from corner-back for a well-taken score, Kieran McGeary whistled one over from 40 metres.

Game on

To the underdogs' credit, they looked more like themselves after the restart. Shane Carey came off the bench and wired into the Tyrone midfield, forcing a turnover that led to Conor McCarthy nipping the first point of the half.

Soon after, Rory Beggan landed a free from 60 metres. Colin Walshe came off the bench to play in the forwards and claimed a mark, Conor McManus iced a couple of frees. When Jack McCarron claimed a mark in the 49th minute, his kick drew the sides level at 0-12 to 0-12. Game on.

But Tyrone were able to rouse themselves. Though their handling had fallen off a cliff since half-time, some of their big players still had it in them to take control. Cathal McShane generally had a nightmare when he came in as a sub but he did clip the go-ahead point on 51 minutes.

Peter Harte showed huge leadership turning inside to kick a fine score off his weaker right foot on the hour mark. Darren McCurry took a monumental mark, somehow coming down with the ball despite being the far shorter man in his duel with Conor Boyle.

Monaghan clawed and scrapped at the other end but came up a point shy. After an emotional fortnight that saw the deaths of both their sponsor Philip Traynor and their under-20 captain Brendan Óg Ó Dufiagh, Séamus McEnaney cut an emotional and defiant figure afterwards.

“A lot of people have wrote off a lot of these players. These boys were supposed to be dead and buried in ’18 and ’19 and they keep coming back for more. The one thing about the Monaghan players is that you get every ounce of energy from them and the great thing about them is that every single player who is capable of playing football for Monaghan, wants to play for Monaghan and are playing for Monaghan.

“I think that energy, the energy from the U-20s last night, will drive any player on because this is a special group and to be playing inter-county football for Monaghan is a very special place to be.”

TYRONE: Niall Morgan; Michael McKernan (0-1), Ronan McNamee, Padraig Hampsey (0-1); Niall Sludden (0-1), Michael O'Neill, Peter Harte (0-1); Brian Kennedy, Conn Kilpatrick; Kieran McGeary (0-1), Mark Bradley (0-2), Conor Meyler; Darren McCurry (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark), Mattie Donnelly (0-3, 0-1 free), Conor McKenna. Subs: Niall Kelly for O'Neill, 18 mins; Cathal McShane (0-1) for Kennedy, 46 mins; Darragh Canavan for Kilpatrick, 54 mins; Ronan O'Neill for Bradley, 66 mins

MONAGHAN; Rory Beggan (0-2, 0-2 frees); Kieran Duffy (0-1), Conor Boyle (0-1), Ryan Wylie; Karl O'Connell, Dessie Ward, Ryan McAnespie; Darren Hughes, Killian Lavelle (0-1); Stephen O'Hanlon, Aaron Mulligan, Michael Bannigan; Conor McCarthy (0-2), Jack McCarron (0-3, 0-1 mark), Conor McManus (0-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: Shane Carey for Mulligan, 31 mins; Niall Kearns for Hughes, half-time; Colin Walshe (0-1, mark) for O'Connell, half-time; Kieran Hughes for O'Hanlon, 54 mins; Andrew Woods for McCarthy, 63 mins

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times