Tyrone 0-16 Monaghan 0-15
It turned out to be far more frantic and close-run than Tyrone would have liked but they all count the same. They withstood a second-half fightback at Croke Park from Monaghan to win their 16th Ulster title, seeing it out by a single point. In all truth, they’d have endured a tortured winter had they come away with anything less.
Monaghan never once led in the game and were kept in it at times by some fairly lackadaisical Tyrone shooting. Mattie Donnelly put in a phenomenal first half only to hit the post with a 13-metre free in the second half and also get turned over in the tackle by a sprinting back Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan with the goal at his mercy late on. You'd have to imagine that sort of wandering mind will be welcomed with a sterner forfeit against Kerry.
"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 our 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.”
As Ulster finals go, this sure wasn’t Clones. There was none of the usual boot, bollock and bite of the northern province’s 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.
The worst of it for Monaghan by then was the fact that they had come up the road and left nothing on a Tyrone side that was weakened by a Covid outbreak. Co-manager Feargal Logan couldn't make the trip and on the pitch they were without Frank Burns, Tiernan McCann and Richie Donnelly.
And yet Monaghan were passive and stand-offish throughout the 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, Michael McKernan slid in unopposed from corner -back for a well-taken score, Kieran McGeary whistled one over from 40 metres.
At the other end, Monaghan kicked a succession of poor wides, often shooting from the wrong side and pulling their shots across goal to bounce harmlessly into the hill. Jack McCarron was the main danger inside, as Hampsey kept Conor McManus well shackled.
Tyrone led 0-6 to 0-4 at the first water break but powered on from there to open up a five-point gap at half-time. Mark Bradley flitted around to decent effect, while Darren McCurry took advantage of a couple of poor Beggan kick-outs to bump out his tally. All Monaghan had in reply was a Conor McCarthy point. They looked a beaten docket when David Gough sent everyone indoors.
To Monaghan's credit, they looked more like themselves after the restart. Shane Carey came off the benched and wired into the Tyrone midfield, forcing a turnover that led to McCarthy nipping the first point of the half. Soon after, Beggan landed a free from 60 metres. Colin Walshe came off the bench to play in the forwards and claimed a mark, McManus iced a couple of frees. When McCarron claimed a mark in the 49th minute, his kick drew the sides level at 0-12 to 0-12. Game on.
Here and there, 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. McCurry took a monumental mark, somehow coming down with the ball despite being the far shorter man in his duel with Conor Boyle.
Monaghan had their chances. McManus has been the saviour so often in the pass and has long since earned the right to take all the potshots he pleases. But his radar was off here. Dessie Ward missed a killer score, Beggan played most of the game as an auxiliary midfielder but pulled a glorious chance left and wide.
In the end, Monaghan were too ragged and careless to claw themselves level in a frenzied endgame. A game they were out of at half-time was, unbelievably, there for them down the stretch. That they didn’t take it will haunt them.
Tyrone will head into an All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry knowing it should never have come to that.
TYRONE: Niall Morgan; Michael McKernan (0-1), Ronan McNamee, Pádraig 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, two frees, one mark), Mattie Donnelly (0-3, one free), Conor McKenna.
Subs: Niall Kelly for O'Neill (18 mins); Cathal McShane (0-1) for Kennedy (46); Darragh Canavan for Kilpatrick (54) ;Ronan O'Neill for Bradley (66).
MONAGHAN; Rory Beggan (0-2, two 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, one mark), Conor McManus (0-4, three frees).
Subs: Shane Carey for Mulligan (31 mins); Niall Kearns for Hughes; Colin Walshe (0-1, mark) for O'Connell (both half-time); Kieran Hughes for O'Hanlon (54); Andrew Woods for McCarthy (63).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).