Donegal created another piece of history the hard way as they defeated Monaghan to reach a record sixth Ulster final in-a-row on Saturday evening.
Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . 0-17
Monaghan . . . . . . . . 2-10
“We hammered them by a point,” was the reaction of one Donegal supporter after the final whistle. And it was true, but not before putting themselves and the supporters through the wringer for a second week.
Donegal were seven or eight points a superior team to Monaghan, but the concession of two goals kept the opposition in the contest. The crossbar came to Donegal’s rescue in the 60th minute, but overall it was a game that the Donegal team never shirked responsibility and when hit by setbacks, always responded with Martin O’Reilly and Michael Murphy especially to the fore.
For large parts of the contest, the Donegal display was flawless but it was the lapses that threatened to ruin their great work. They were out of the traps like greyhounds again with Rory Kavanagh pointing with his left after 30 seconds and by the 17th minute, they had five points on the board while Monaghan were still stuck in neutral.
The Farney men got their first point seconds later, although both umpires looked at each several times before raising a flag.
The first Donegal lapse came on 19 minutes. With two Donegal players over at the bench getting instructions from Rory Gallagher, Conor McManus saw the opportunity and rather than go for a point from an awkward angle, went short and Shane Carey availed of the space to drive through and slide home a goal and wipe out a good Donegal lead.
The Donegal response was good with points from Patrick McBrearty, Martin O’Reilly and a Michael Murphy free (after O’Reilly was fouled).
But their work was wiped out by the 32nd minute with Conor McManus pointing and then Ryan Wylie breaking free up the left. When he broke past Eoin McHugh, Anthony Thompson went to cover, but Wylie went down just inside the area to win a penalty, which McManus blasted home to level matters. Even worse, Thompson was shown black, which was harsh for an innocuous enough tackle.
Again Donegal responded with Frank McGlynn drifting through to point and after a foul on Ryan McHugh, Michael Murphy put the bad memories of the ‘town’ goals behind him, to fire over from 40m and leave it 0-10 to 2-2 at half-time.
The Monaghan supporters were given hope when Conor McManus reduced the margin to the minimum within 11 seconds of the restart with a typical point from distance, but Kilcar pair McBrearty and the impressive Mark McHugh responded.
Owen Duffy and substitute Conor Boyle had the margin down to one again by the 53rd minute, but it was around this time that Michael Murphy took control, pointing a free and setting up McBrearty. Jack McCarron hit a long range effort, before Martin O’Reilly put three points between the sides with 11 minutes left. Donegal escaped disaster a minute later when Karl Lacey was dispossessed on the 45m line and Conor McCarthy sped towards an unguarded Donegal goal. He elected to chip the advancing Mark Anthony McGinley only to see his effort come back off the crossbar.
It was a huge let-off for Donegal. Conor McManus converted his first free on 64 minutes (which reflected much improved Donegal discipline in defence) before Martin O’Reilly was almost in on goal after great work by Ciaran Gillespie and Odhrán Mac Niallais. O’Reilly was being closed down but somehow squeezed over a point off upright and top of the crossbar (it was a magnificent finish).
Donegal lost Rory Kavanagh to a second yellow card, as Monaghan put in a late rally with a McManus ‘45’ and another long range effort from McCarron but Ryan McHugh won a free for Michael Murphy to push the gap out to two as the game entered added time.
Five minutes were added on (which seemed a lot), but Donegal were better prepared this week and with Monaghan also down to 14 with a black card for Karl O’Connell (they had their six subs used), the only other score was a Colin Walshe effort on 73 minutes.
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Ciaran Gillespie, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn (0-1), Eoin McHugh; Odhrán Mac Niallais, Michael Murphy (0-5,4f,’45’); Anthony Thompson (0-1), Karl Lacey, Martin O'Reilly (0-3); Patrick McBrearty (0-4,3f), Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Martin McElhinney (0-1). Subs., Mark McHugh (0-1) for Thompson, bcard 33; Christy Toye for McElhinney 53; Martin McElhinney for MacNiallais 69; Eoghan Ban Gallagher for O'Reilly 73.
Monaghan: Rory Beggan; Colin Walshe (0-1), Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Kieran Duffy, Vinny Corey, Fintan Kelly; Kieran Hughes, Karl O'Connell; Owen Duffy (0-1), Ryan McAnespie, Shane Carey (1-1); Daniel McKenna, Darren Hughes, Conor McManus (1-4, pen,1f,’45’). Subs., Dermot Malone and Neil McAdam for McKenna and D Wylie, both ht; Conor Boyle (0-1) for R Wylie 45; Conor Carthy for Carey 49; Jack McCarron (0-2) for K Hughes 53; Dessie Mone for F Kelly 64.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).