Result: Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13
Bizarre. Unbelievable. Brilliant. Having trailed by nine points after 35 minutes, having trailed by six at the break, having been out-muscled, out-thought and outfought throughout that first period, having suffered at the hands of the referee who gave a shocking goal against them when they’d finally clawed their way back to within touching distance, Down still won out in Lazarus-like fashion.
With just a point in the game and 14 minutes left, Sligo referee Michael Duffy awarded a soft free against Brendan McArdle who had a second half every bit as good as his first half was bad. He went to book the Down player, calling him aside, leaving a whole in the victor’s defence, but before the booking was issued he then allowed a quick free to be taken and Tommy Freeman to goal. He awarded the score and only then booked McArdle. It was ludicrious and more importantly it was 1-12 to 1-8 to Monaghan.
But Down simply got on with it. Donal O’Hare kicked two, Benny Coulter came on and kicked over with his first touch, Liam Doyle scored, Aidan Carr had them level. And then, with the clock ticking to an end, Darren O’Hagan saw a breaking ball bounce towards him and fisted over. The unlikeliest of heroes. The unlikeliest of results. Only now have our heartbeats returned to normal.
13.52 – Welcome to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh for the Ulster semi-final between Down and Monaghan. It’s wet and miserable but hey, to expect anything else is simply naive.
13.54 – Big day for Down as they want to prove that 2011 was the exception and 2010 was the rule. We know they are a confidence team, we saw that on their run to the All Ireland final and also in their meek elimination last season.
13.56 – Here are the teams and it’s worth noting that Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon are rumoured to be back on the Down bench, although it’s hard to believe they ight be ready to play a part.
Down – Brendan McVeigh, Daniel McCartan, Brendan McArdle, Gerard McCartan, Darren O’Hagan, Kevin McKernan, Conor Garvey, Ambrose Rogers, Kalum King, Daniel Hughes, Mark Poland, Aidan Carr, Donal O’Hare, Conor Laverty, Eoin McCartan.
Monaghan – Mark Keogh, Drew Wylie, Vinnie Corey, Colin Walshe, Darren Hughes, Dessie Mone, Karl O’Connell, Owen Lennon, Dick Clerkin, Pete Dooney, Stephen Gollogly, James Turley, Kieran Hughes, Paul Finlay, Conor McManus.
13.59 – As for predictions, we think Down will cover the two point handicap. So much of what Monaghan achieve is based on big days at midfield but the movement of Ambrose Rogers and physicality of Kalum King will give them trouble. Also, they have far more to share the scoring burden as the half-back line push up and control a game with quick hands, the half-forward line is impressive and Conor Laverty’s movement and vision has stood out in the absence of Benny Coulter.
14.01 – Game underway and Down will play into a light breeze in the first half. We welcome all your thoughts and opinions across this game.
14.05 – 4 minutes, Down 0-0 Monaghan 0-1: Measured and tentative start with Monaghan looking to pick holes as opposed to create them and it doesn’t pay off in a move where the ball goes back to midfield twice before Conor McManus sends the ball wide from a kickable position. When they get the ball we expect Down to be far more direct in their play. Finally we do get a score though as Darren Hughes, back from injury, sends a free over from beyond 45.
14.07 – 6 minutes, Down 0-0 Monaghan 0-3: When Monaghan won in the league, it was based around the shooting boots of Paul Finlay. Bodes well then as that’s a massive score from him. Great start for the underdogs as Conor McManus cuts through to make it three. It’s so controlled, they aren’t giving up the ball at all.
14.10 – 10 minutes, Down 0-1 Monaghan 0-3: Finally some urgency from Down. They get tight and turnover ball at the back, break at pace, win a free and it’s a great connection from Ambrose Rogers from a long way out with a breeze in his face. That could well be a template for what they need to do to get through this game, although their midfield also need to get into the game a lot more as Dick Clerkin has gotten his hands on too much possession early.
14.14 – 13 minutes, Down 0-1 Monaghan 0-4: Possession football still from Monaghan. They are reluctant to kick even a 60-40 pass. Instead they are working it out with their hands, carrying it with their half-back line and only then playing it into the forwards whose finishing has let them down a little in these opening stages. Not Conor McManus though. He has been lively, looking for space, finding it and he kicks his second.
14.16 – 15 minutes, Down 0-1 Monaghan 0-5: Of course Monaghan have been hugely physical too, a style we haven’t seen since Banty. So far they have bullied Down in defence. Even their forwards have had the physical edge so far with both Down corners being caught out by the quality of ball coming into their men. It’s that duel which wins Monaghan a free 30 yards out and McManus kicks his third.
14.18 – 17 minutes, Down 0-1 Monaghan 0-6: Down need to wake up, they’ve been caught completely flat footed here, losing every sector. If they don’t wake up they’ll need goals as Paul Finlay puts over another free.
14.20 – 19 minutes, Down 0-1 Monaghan 0-7: Credit the Monaghan management for this masterstroke. They are playing with a style so similar to Cork, the team that have suited Down least of all in recent seasons. There’s another free from Finlay. We talked about Down being a confidence team. Right now they don’t even look a competent team. Physically, they have backed down.
14.24 – 23 minutes, Down 0-2 Monaghan 0-7: Daniel McCartan gone off, which sums up the Down problems at corner-back. Duffin the replacement in there. Finally some front-foot play at the other end, Rogers dragged down and easy free is popped over by Donal O’Hare.
14.28 – 27 minutes, Down 0-2 Monaghan 0-8: The one question about this physical, ball-carrying play of Monaghan is can they keep it up? We mentioned it being a Cork style of play, but Cork are a different animal altogether and play like that for 70 minutes each and every game. If Monaghan can keep it up though, it’s a long way back for their opponents as McManus kicks his fourth from another free. Down being forced to foul at the back as Monaghan come in waves, and are kicking accurate, diagonal ball into the inside-forward line.
14.32 – 31 minutes, Down 0-2 Monaghan 0-9: Massive free from Conor McManus from the touchline. He looks like Paul Finlay today. Best championship game of his career already and it isn’t even half-time. Meanwhile more turnover ball at the other end. We can only count one instance of Down’s full-forward line winning a ball. If I was the table in the Down dressing room, I’d be using all of my four legs to escape right now before I’m throw off a wall and a couple are broken off.
14.35 – 34 minutes, Down 0-2 Monaghan 0-11: Paul Finlay scores as Down are opened up. Another turnover ball at the other end surmises the half as Dessie Mone rips the ball from opposition hands, hand passes up the field and a score. So simple. Dick Clerkin now gets in on the fun.
14.38 – 35+2, Down 1-2 Monaghan 0-11: We talked Conor Laverty up coming into this, and finally we see why. He collects relatively deep, jinks into the small square in full flight and is pushed over by Vinny Corey. Aidan Carr nails the penalty low and left. Huge moment.
14.42 – Half-time, Down 1-2 Monaghan 0-11: Somehow there are only six in it but Monaghan cannot let that late penalty knock them out of their stride. They have been hugely physical in the full-back and half-back lines but unlike in the past, they’ve been disciplined too. Dick Clerkin and Owen Lennon have had the better of it in the middle, the ball into Finlay and McManus in the corners has been sublime and bar Ambrose Rogers, Down have been cleaned out and been repeatedly forced to foul. They need to man up and embrace the physical battle after the restart or there is no way back. It’s hard to see as they’ll need to emerge a completely different team in the second half if they are to get back into it. We’ll be back to see if they can do it shortly.
14.57 – We are back underway, and Down have one hell of a mountain to climb in this second half…
15.01 – 38 minutes, Down 1-2 Monaghan 0-11: A few positional changes for Down with Darren O’Hagan gone to corner-back, Gerard McCartan in at full-back and Brendan McCardle into the other corner. They had to do something back there, we’ll see if it works, but there are so many other problems for James McCartan to solve other than that.
15.04 – 42 minutes, Down 1-3 Monaghan 0-11: It’s brighter from Down though as they have started to carry the ball confidently and find space going wide in the inside forward-line. They get rewarded to with a Donal O’Hare free after good work from Conor Laverty.
15.07 – 45 minutes, Down 1-4 Monaghan 0-11: Kalum King has woken up in midfield too and Down have had as much possession in the first 10 minutes of this half as they had in the entire second half. Quite a few wides are the end product of better build-up play although substitute Kevin Duffin kicks a nice score there. With Monaghan’s physical style, it takes huge effort to keep up their intensity without the ball.
15.09 – 46 minutes, Down 1-5 Monaghan 0-11: An off the ball hit gives Down an easy free here. Michael Duffy books Colin Walshe. Suddenly there’s only a goal in it as Donal O’Hare converts.
15.10 – 48 minutes, Down 1-6 Monaghan 0-11: Now it’s Mark Poland feeding Conor Laverty and that’s a lovely score. Different Down side and they’ve time and momentum all of a sudden. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in that Down dressing room at the break.
15.14 – 50 minutes, Down 1-7 Monaghan 0-11: Vinnie Corey cannot keep pace with Conor Laverty when he wanders out looking for possession. There he gathers, leaves the full-back for dead with a shimmy and converts. One point game.
15.18 – 56 minutes, Down 1-8 Monaghan 0-12: Goal chances at either end, Down might have had a penalty, Brendan McVeigh makes a fine save, Darren Hughes converts the 45. Great game now but Down need to stop with the short kickout, as it’s putting huge pressure on their backs. There a long kickout allows Aidan Carr to score. Brilliant.
15.21 – 58 minutes, Down 1-8 Monaghan 1-12: There’s going to be huge controversy over this. We think the referee has made a mess of that. He allowed a quick free to be taken as he was giving a yellow card to Brendan McCardle and Tommy Freeman goals. You can’t be allowed to take a quick free when you stop a team to book a player surely. He goes back and books the player after the goal. Bizarre.
15.23 – 60 minutes, Down 1-9 Monaghan 1-12: Back to a goal as Donal O’Hare converts a free. It’s all action but we’ll have to come back to that goal. You cannot pull a player out of position to book him and then allow the opposition to play on into the space.
15.27 – 65 minutes, Down 1-10 Monaghan1-13: Huge credit as Down rise again and O’Hare converts a free again. It’s a huge ask though, they’d be ahead but for a shocking piece of refereeing. Now Paul Finlay frees. Sorry but that Monaghan goal leaves a sour taste after a sweet game. Michael Duffy had a great game up to that, letting it flow, but how he allowed that goal? He let Monaghan score a goal in space he created by calling across a player he didn’t book until after the goal.
15.29 – 66 minutes, Down 1-11 Monaghan 1-13: Benny Coulter comes on ans scores with his first touch. Is there enough time?
15.30 – 68 minutes, Down 1-12 Monaghan 1-13: Down will not go away as another substitute, Liam Doyle, converts a free.
15.32 – 69 minutes, Down 1-13 Monaghan 1-13: Justice? Aidan Carr takes the ball from Ambrose Rogers, kicks it out of the hands from 45 and it’s straight over the black spot.
15.33 – 70 minutes, Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13: Have they just gone on won it? A long ball breaks to Darren O’Hagan who fists over.
15.35 – Result, Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13: Dick Clerkin kicks wide when wide open and close in. He’s right in front of the posts. It’s the last kick of the game. An absolutely brilliant game with the unlikeliest of winners.