Donegal recapture Ulster crown after revenge mission
Monaghan 1-9 Donegal 0-15: Three Ulster Championships out of four years for Donegal. Revenge for last year's reversal against Monaghan. A few timely reminders that they haven't gone away.
They already have the Anglo-Celt back resting in the Hills. By the time the Sam Maguire comes to being handed out in September, they will at the very least have had an enormous influence on who contests it.
There are known knowns, and then the unknowns.
Donegal play Meath or Armagh on Saturday August 9 in the All-Ireland quarter-final. You would have to fancy them to rack up another win there and progress to an All-Ireland semi-final where they would be on course to meet Dublin.
Now that's juicy.
Who knows where Donegal could end up this year. The problems that appeared to dog them early in the year have melted away and there are enough pointers to hint that maybe, just maybe ...
This was Donegal's first win over Monaghan in Ulster since 1983, an Ulster semi-final that was played in the very stonewashed '80s Ulster venue of Irvinestown. Martin McHugh was wing-forward for Donegal that day. 31 years later his son Ryan was a constant menace to Monaghan all day.
With the balance of a dancer and serious durability for taking skites, he is the prototype player for finding holes in a blanket defence.
He had been named as corner-back midweek, but played an advanced role with Karl Lacey, as expected, along with Darach O'Connor and Neil Gallagher coming into the starting line-up.
In his first two seasons Jim McGuinness gave off a zen-like aura on the sidelines, but the last two years he has become more animated.
At one stage it appeared he and Monaghan trainer Ryan Porter were hotly contesting a few decisions and the fourth official's desk was certainly aware of his presence.
But tactically, he got it spot on. No, it won't be to everyone's liking and it's not the beautiful game, but it's efficient and it wins matches as the tune that was blasted out of the tannoy after the final whistle goes.
For a start, he had Paddy McGrath sweeping while the McGee brothers held Kieran Hughes scoreless until garbage time. When Paul Durcan was forced to go long with his kickouts, Monaghan won only one break as he put on a display of subtle slicing, hooking, and disguised deliveries.
And they spooked Rory Beggan from the dead ball.
They reversed the fast start by Monaghan last year by getting the first three points from Lacey, Odhran MacNiallais and a Colm McFadden free.
Monaghan had an equal number of chances but were to float five shots short of the Donegal posts in the opening half.
Paul Finlay led the fightback with a point from distance and a free but Monaghan's best chance of the first half came after Fintan Kelly was put through on goal; Karl Lacey, who had kicked the ball away initially to Stephen Gollogly, recovered to block and concede a '45', with Monaghan appealing for a penalty. They had to settle for a Beggan converted point.
Immediately after, Michael Murphy ended in a crumpled heap on the floor and a mini flare-up occurred. Referee Maurice Deegan booked Dick Clerkin for it to howls of disapproval from both sides.
That score was instantly answered by MacNiallais on his weaker right foot and a further Finlay free left two in it at the break.
Monaghan can feel slightly hard done by. Donegal's tackling remains a grey area for referees and Deegan whistled for far less in the second period. He also completely missed a third-man tackle by Lacey on Colin Walshe that took him out of the game.
Although Donegal brought the margin out to five, they then were set more questions.
Clerkin sent a high ball in, Frank McGlynn fumbled it and Chris McGuinness pounced on the loose ball to gather, sprint through and find the net.
Donegal would hold them scoreless for the next 10 minutes, while hitting three points themselves.
They needed sweat to go with the science. Brothers Eamonn and Neil McGee, along with Ryan McHugh, all had to go to the line to treat open wounds. Neil McGee in particular came to line with claret pumping from his head on 50 minutes.
Paddy McBrearty also rampaged into the Championship with three points as Donegal stretched their lead. Michael Murphy was slightly subdued in a very withdrawn position but iced a 60-yard free from his hands to grab Donegal's final score of the afternoon.
Monaghan were not comfortable in the role of chasing the game and their tackling became ragged.
At the final whistle, there were no customary post-match handshakes between the managers, McGuinness sprinting on the pitch to grab his players. After the winter of uncertainty, he said this felt better than any win, even more than the All-Ireland in 2012.
"I think it's our best victory because of the circumstances and because what surrounded it," he said.
"We went into the All-Ireland final after winging Ulster, beating Kerry and beating Cork and we won our All-Ireland. This was a situation where the boys were being questioned and there's only one way to sort out them answers and that's out on the pitch."
Monaghan meanwhile, head for the backdoor to meet Kildare in a fortnight. Win that, and they could face none other than the Dubs.
It's all got a little tasty.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan (0-2, 1f, 1x'45'); C Walshe, V Corey 0-1, D Wylie; D Mone, R Wylie, F Kelly; D Clerkin, D Hughes; P McKenna, S Gollogly, P Finlay 0-4, 3f; D Malone, K Hughes 0-1, C McManus 0-1. Subs: C McGuinness 1-0, for McKenna (44m), O Duffy for Gollogly (51m), K O'Connell for Kelly, P Donaghy for Malone (59m), G Doogan for Clerkin (65m)
Yellow cards: Malone (21m), K Hughes (28m), Gollogly (30m), Clerkin (35m)
Yellow cards: Malone (21m), K Hughes (28m), Gollogly (30m), Clerkin (35m)
DONEGAL: P Durcan; N McGee, E McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson 0-1, K Lacey 0-1, F McGlynn; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais 0-3; C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh 0-1; D O'Connor, M Murphy 0-2, 2f, C McFadden 0-4, 4f. Subs: P McBrearty 0-3, for O'Connor (26m), R Kavanagh for McHugh (blood sub, 44m), Kavanagh for Toye (46m), Declan Walsh for E McGee (blood sub, 50m-55), M McElhinney for MacNiallais (58m), David Walsh for McLoone (59m), D Molloy for McFadden (65m)
Yellow cards: N McGee (21m)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)
Donegal player ratings
Paul Durcan (7) Solid and dependable, his kick-outs were textbook exercises for the most part and he had no chance with the shot that beat him.
Eamonn McGee (7) Had the task of curbing Kieran Hughes and restricted his input to such an extent that he recorded just one point.
Neil McGee (7) Operated in tandem with Frank McGlynn in nullifying the threat posed by Conor McManus.
Ryan McHugh (7) Always looked busy on the ball, shipped a second-half knock but returned to make a big contribution in the closing stages.
Anthony Thompson (6) Scored a fine point and never stopped working although he was caught in possession a few times when going forward.
Frank McGlynn (7) Stuck rigidly to his task of keeping tabs on McManus, made some telling runs and was always available to provide back-up.
Paddy McGrath (7) Deployed in a sweeper role in the first-half, he played with more freedom after the break and put in some important tackles.
Neil Gallagher (8) Superb performance from the veteran midfield ace who played a holding role. Won a ration of quality first-phase possession.
Karl Lacey (7) Was his usual authoritative self as a link between defence and attack, might have potted a point but used his experience well.
Darach O’Connor (5) Looked lively initially but was replaced by Patrick McBrearty after 25 minutes when he was clearly unable to make headway.
Leo McLoone (7) Caught the eye on more than one occasion in the first-half in particular when his marauding runs carried a threat but faded.
Odhran MacNiallais (6) Never allowed Darren Hughes to impose himself and thus largely negated a supply from Monaghan’s midfield.
Christy Toye (6) Put in a great shift through his relentless foraging and support play until he was substituted.
Michael Murphy (7) Played in deeper role, proved the launch-pad for attacks and converted two frees, one a vital 58th-minute conversion.
Colm McFadden (7) Looked sharp although he was used as a one-man band inside line but scored four points from frees.
Monaghan player ratings
Rory Beggan (6) Potted two points, handled well but some of his kick-outs were not as accurate as they might have been.
Ryan Wylie (6) Worked very hard throughout and was always keen to support his attack but found the going tough in the second-half.
Drew Wylie (7) No one personified his team’s resilience and tenacity more than the full-back who never left McFadden’s shoulder.
Colin Walshe (6) Appeared to lose his concentration on occasions and found McLoone and then McBrearty hot handfuls.
Dessie Mone (5) Not as effective as he normally can be in terms of going forward, mainly because he was confined to defensive duties.
Vinny Corey (7) Worked hard throughout, scored a fine brace of points and always tried to take the game to the opposition.
Fintan Kelly (6) Encountered problems because of Toye’s physique and craft and seemed to tire before he was replaced by Karl O’Connell.
Dick Clerkin (5) Outgunned by Neil Gallagher, he was a peripheral figure for the most part and became more so after a booking.
Darren Hughes (6) Like Clerkin, he was unable to impose himself at midfield and was largely involved in damage limitation.
Paudie McKenna (5) Began well in his role as sweeper but when drawn out of position looked vulnerable and was replaced in the 43rd minute.
Stephen Gollogly (6) Combative zeal earned him a yellow card and he was unable to make an impact before being summoned ashore.
Paul Finlay (6) Looked comfortable on the ball but was unable to deliver the work-rate necessary. Still managed to pilfer four points.
Dermot Malone (5) Started aggressively and indeed looked menacing but gradually lost his bite and made way for Padraig Donaghy.
Kieran Hughes (5) Never really created any problems for the Donegal rearguard and a solitary point testified to his dividend from the game.
Conor McManus (5) Seldom has this scorer-in-chief been so quiet, Donegal’s double-teaming of him proving clinically effective.