The ‘Democrat’ heading said - Donegal pay the price for error and inexperience - as Monaghan edged a tough encounter in Omagh.
The occasion was the National League quarter-final in March 1988 and it came after Donegal had reached the top flight for the first time.
It was the first time the counties had met since the leagues had been re-organised in 1980 and Monaghan had been riding high, having one of their best ever periods. They had won the League in 1985.
The occasion had its own degree of controversy, not least being the sending off of Manus Boyle after 24 minutes for an off the ball clash with the then recognised Monaghan hard man, Gerry McCarville.
However, the hard man image belonged to only one man as darkness drew on Healy Park, Omagh. Donegal manager, Tom Conaghan, went to the Monaghan dressing room and accused McCarville of “lying down” to get Manus Boyle sent off. To paraphrase his contribution, a former player said Conaghan’s words were along the lines: ‘I never thought I’d see the day that Monaghan man would lie down to get a Donegal man sent off’.
Conaghan escaped unscathed from the Monaghan dressing room and gave the same version to the waiting reporters.
Donegal showed poor return for a momentous effort at Healy Park, Omagh, on Sunday where they were bludgeoned out of the National League semi-finals by a Monaghan side that was far from convincing.
Monaghan capitalised on Donegal error and inexperience, which saw the Tir Conaill side battle for 36 minutes with 14 men.
From the sending off in the 24th minute of full-forward Manus Boyle, Donegal’s numerical disadvantage began to emerge as one of the two main keys in their downfall. The second was a totally flawed kicking performance from hitherto flawless Martin McHugh.
The normally accurate Kilcar man was off target from a series of frees, many of them, admittedly, difficult, but one a mere 14 metre opportunity that he failed to get under properly.
For the forwards the underfoot conditions made playing very difficult indeed but their problems were compounded by the dragging and pulling of Monaghan backs that went largely unchecked.
It was a battle of endurance with the icy wind and ever falling rain threatening to cause the game to be abandoned. Though they showed marvellous tenacity to be level 0-4 to 1-1 at half-time and ahead by a point midway through the second half, the massive effort made by the losers was not enough, the burden proving too great and Monaghan took advantage of the gaps in Donegal’s defence to get the vital winning scores.
That there is honour in this defeat is indeed an understatement. Monaghan are tipped to win the League. That they could scrape through against a 14 man Donegal side testified to the quality of the Donegal side.
A feature of the Donegal display was in their determination. It manifested itself in the performances of such as Martin McHugh who despite poor free kicking continued to battle for possession. It was apparent in the workrate of Martin Gavigan and Anthony Molloy at midfield and the extra work being done by half backs Tuohy and Reid to compensate for Boyle’s absence in attack.
Such endeavour has its drawbacks, creating gaps behind players; Monaghan only rarely, but effectively, used those gaps and scores such as a classic Ray McCarron second half effort came from them. In the energy sapping conditions a player dismissal could not be afforded, and with the paucity of scores from play, misses from frees came at an exorbitant cost, ie, defeat.
Donegal’s bad luck proved persistent as the game progressed and started in the first minute when Martin McHugh from a 45 metre free hit the upright and he was wide again from play.
Manus Boyle put the first score on the board, pointing a 21 metre free from a foul ‘off the ball’ by Gerry McCarville.
In the fifth minute Boyle looked almost stranded he was in so much room thanks to a quick ball from Tommy Ryan, but he soloed and then shot wide.
Ray McCarron was sent through for Monaghan’s first chance after seven minutes of Donegal dominance. The Scotstown half forward shot wide from close range.Cathal Campbell intercepted another teasing ball to Bernie Murray; even though he was held, the St. Naul’s player was in a position to clear his lines, but got a free out.
A foul by Cathal Campbell on Nudie Hughes was pointed by Eamon McEneaney in the 12th minute but two minutes later Monaghan went three points up with a lucky goal. A speculative shot towards goal by Declan Flanagan bogged in the muck and Gary Walsh fumbled the pick up. Eamonn Murphy had the simple task of putting the ball, which skidded behind Walsh, into the vacant net.
It was a goal very much against the run of play and despite it Donegal played even more doggedly. Donal Reid and Anthony Molloy getting a free on 13 metre line which Martin McHugh pointed.
Another free in the 18th minute pointed by McHugh gave Monaghan a single point lead.
In a spell of sustained pressure Donegal, through Martin Gavigan, Manus Boyle twice (both times when he had his man beaten and should have carried the ball further) shot wide.
Boyle was sent off in the 24th minute, one umpire implicating Boyle after Gerry McCarville, the Monaghan full-back, lay on the ground after an off-the-ball incident. McCarville made a remarkable recovery as Boyle, a dejected figure, was walked from the field by a clearly annoyed Tom Conaghan.
More wine work by Martin Gavigan resulted in another free but again McHugh was wide. Within a minute of half-time McHugh levelled the scores, pointing an Anthony Molloy won free.
With Monaghan using McCarville as the extra man Donegal had to resort to wing play, Donal Reid and Brian Tuohy pushing forward to try and link with Barry Cunningham and McHugh.
The second half saw a spirited Donegal use short passing football. Since Sunday they have been criticised for this tactic. Certainly it sapped energy, but was more prudent than pumping the ball long and speculatively into an unmarked Monaghan full-back.
From a Martin Shovlin free, kicked to Anthony Molloy, Tommy Ryan took the ball on the 45 metre line and weaved past Sean McKenna to score the best point of the game and give Donegal the lead.
But short passing by Cathal Campbell and Barry Cunningham let Nudie Hughes win possession in the 37th minute and from a free on Hughes, Eamon McEneaney levelled the scores at 0-5 to 1-2. Martin Shovlin was booked for his tackle on Hughes.
Substitute Eugene O’Hanlon was barely on the field (41st minute) when he delivered a good ball to Michael O’Dowd, who got one of Monaghan’s best points. Two minutes later Ray McCarron stretched that lead with a stylish point, soloing some 20 metres before letting fly from 40m or so out.
Just before that Declan Bonner was unlucky not to connect with a Martin McHugh free. Bonner’s fist flick was just too thin and the Monaghan men cleared.
With 17 minutes left Bonner left the field to make way for Aodh Ruadh’s Sylvester Maguire. He got into the thick of things but had little clean possession to do anything spectacular.
With 12 minutes left Charlie Mulgrew narrowed the margin to a point, putting a confident finish to a lovely move involving Donal Reid, Martin McHugh and Sylvester Maguire.
From the 48th minute to the 54th minute Donegal piled on the pressure, Tommy Ryan in possession near goal but then robbed. A crucial decision to penalise Martin Gavigan for throwing the ball took the pressure off Monaghan in the 52nd minute.
With five minutes remaining Martin McHugh had a series of pointing chances, firing one free wide from 50 metres, another short and a third into the attack which was cleared. With two minutes left he worked his way in from a short sideline on the right wing. Although he made the angle his final effort screwed away to the left, summing up a frustrating afternoon for the Kilcar man.
Ray McCarron from Eugene O’Hanlon, added a bonus point in the last minute, the score all the easier when Donegal were caught on the move forward.
Monaghan: P Linden; S McKenna, G McCarville, E Sherry; G Hoey, C Murray, Brendan Murray; E McEneaney (0-2,2frees), D Byrne; R McCarron (0-2), M O’Dowd (0-1), D Flanagan; E Hughes, E Murphy (1-0), B Murray. Sub., B O’Hanlon for Flanagan (37 mins).
Donegal: Gary Walsh; John Joe Doherty, Brendan Dunleavy, Cathal Campbell; Donal Reid, Brian Tuohy, Martin Shovlin; Martin Gavigan, Anthony Molloy; Martin McHugh (0-3,3 frees), Charlie Mulgrew (0-1), Barry Cunningham; Declan Bonner, Manus Boyle (0-1), Tommy Ryan (0-1). Sub., Sylvester Maguire for Bonner (43 mins).
Referee: J Gough (Antrim).