Monaghan victory roar one of relief as much as jubilation
Conor McManus’s late free seals first home win over the Kingdom in 30 years
Malachy O’Rourke: “We were glad we were able to hold our composure, even when we went down to 14 men, and finish out the game.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Conor McManus’s free curled in from the right to seal a 1-13 to 0-14 win over Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s young side, albeit the roar contained just as much relief as it did joy. For in keeping with the ground conditions, Monaghan made heavy going of it.
They had referee Reilly to thank for being on the benign end of a first-half penalty call after Kerry goalkeeper Shane Murphy was harshly nailed for his tackle on Monaghan midfielder Niall Kearns.
It looked for all the world like Murphy had executed a whistle-clean tackle on the ball, colliding with Kearns in the process. McManus’s penalty was merciless and it bought Monaghan enough credit to survive a hectic last few minutes later on. They had to play out the last quarter-hour without Barry Kerr who was sent off for an off-the-ball clash but they just about got there.
“We played some good football going forward in the first half and we were tight in defence as well,” said Malachy O’Rourke afterwards of an opening-half display that left Monaghan 1-9 to 0-6 ahead at the interval.
“In the second half, we always knew Kerry were going to come back at us. But in saying that, we had enough of the play and we went forward well but we didn’t hang onto the ball enough and gave it away. We weren’t clinical enough at times and it allowed Kerry to come into it and they did. They’ve a lot of quality players there. We were glad we were able to hold our composure, even when we went down to 14 men, and finish out the game.
“I’ve said it all along that we’re taking every game on its own merits and try to perform as well as we can. I feel if we do that we’ll hopefully accumulate enough points to stay in the division. I don’t think you can look at it any other way because there is no game you are guaranteed to win and there is no game you are guaranteed to lose.
“They’re all stand-alone battles and what we’re trying to do is just improve from game to game and see if we can iron out some of the faults and be better the next day out.”
McManus was making his first start of 2018 and was bypassed for much of the first half, looking predictably rusty on the odd occasion he took possession. But all around him Monaghan players were taking up the slack, with Jack McCarron and Darren Hughes in fine fettle and newcomer Kearns impressive around centre-field.
“Niall has come on great. He spent a year in the panel last year and did a lot of good work behind the scenes and he wouldn’t have got that much game-time. He had a good club campaign and we were delighted to get him in. He’s good, has high fitness levels and keeps working really hard for the team and that’s what we want for the team, fellas who commit to the cause and do the simple things but do them well.”
For Kerry, there isn’t a lot of spilt milk to be crying over here. Fitzmaurice has flushed his side with youth and even if they’re not all holding their own, enough of them are to make the exercise worthwhile. David Clifford came on at half-time and gave their attack a focal point, Micheál Burns and Seán O’Shea did their thing as well. Baby steps.
“It’s great for the lads to play in these games and get exposed to this sort of football,” he said. “We’ve had tough away games in Monaghan and Mayo now and a tough home game to Donegal. Getting the lads game time in those situations is good for them going forward.
“I think they learn about the pace of Division One football and they learn about the physicality of playing against the top teams. They learn that if you make mistakes, you get punished. But on the other side, what they also learn is that it’s not that much of a big deal, that they can survive at this level and they’re well able for it. That’s part of it as well.
“I’d be happy with the second-half display. It would have been great for us to get something out of it in the end. If we’d got a draw and a point out of it at the end, it would have been great. There are aspects of it that we’ll have to improve for next weekend and aspects we’d be happy enough with.”