Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Monaghan send Armagh packing

Taking flight: Armagh's Ciaran McKeever attempts to block Paudie McKenna’s progress
Taking flight: Armagh's Ciaran McKeever attempts to block Paudie McKenna’s progress

Monaghan 1-18 - Armagh 1-13: Perhaps within their own circle of trust, Armagh might reflect how things could have been done differently over the past month.

They left Clones yesterday chastened with a defeat that tells them they are still some way off.

While Monaghan turned up the furnace and torched them in spells, Armagh could not live with it.

The evening concluded with the Oriel men back in their second consecutive Ulster final, where they will defend their provincial crown against Donegal. An eye-watering prospect for the purists indeed and a repeat of the final12 months ago.

Armagh, meanwhile, have a hellish qualifiers afternoon in the citadel of Tyrone football next weekend. Harsh.

Replays are always about who can learn more in the week between.

Starting from the back, Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke replaced the ineffectual sweeper Kieran Duffy just prior to throw-in with evergreen and languid attacker Paul Finlay.

This served two purposes. Finlay would push up and occupy Armagh's Ciaran McKeever, who was a most effective sweeper and creative force in the drawn game.

In the half-forward line, Paudie McKenna came in. When Monaghan were in possession he would race back to guard against counter-attacking raids.

At Armagh kick-outs he pushed up on any spare men, forcing Orchard goalkeeper Philip McEvoy to go long, where possession was spoiled more often than not.

What else? Well, let's see.

Last week Kevin Dyas ran the legs off Vinny Corey as a linkman.

Here, he had nowhere near the same influence as Monaghan threw a cordon across the half-back line and denied him the same space.

Drew Wylie kept Stefan Campbell scoreless. Colin Walshe ramped up his physicality and paid far less respect to Jamie Clarke as he grew in stature.

They broke even in midfield, and up top, Kieran Hughes was dangerous as a creative force in the first half before injury ended his day at the break, while Conor McManus was sensational.

Again, they heeded the basics; McManus needed more service and needed it faster, so it was a game for a skilled passer such as Finlay, and Hughes when he was brought further out the field.

From the first round win over Tyrone when McManus was merely there as a freetaker, his fitness has returned and he has lit up the Championship, once again.

He hit 1-7 here, three unerring frees and a pointed sideline that rounded off his mini tour-de-force of four points in eight minutes that killed off Armagh when they had drawn the margin back to four with a quarter of an hour left.

His goal, however, had those watching in raptures of delight. It was also a dagger to Armagh who felt they should have had a decent shout for a penalty just after the half hour when Kieran Toner went down under a combined challenge of Darren Hughes and Ryan Wylie.

The ball instead dribbled wide. Rory Beggan floated the kick-out to Kieran Hughes who held off Charlie Vernon with his hip. The ball bounced beyond them and when Hughes collected he flighted a hanging ball towards the Armagh goal.

There seemed to be the slightest hint of a Seamus Darby-style nudge on Morgan, but either way the ball landed in the 25-year-old's hands and he sent it to the top corner of the net.

A six-point swing, as they say.

Early on, there were signs Armagh would maintain their form of eight days previous. They went ahead with a goal on 12 minutes when Aidan Forker carried the ball 70 yards, exchanging passes with Tony Kernan before smacking the crossbar; Findon on hand to palm the rebound home.

Findon was impressive throughout but his opposite number Dick Clerkin wasn't going to let him have it all his own way.

In almost the next play the two of them collided and Findon ended up on the deck with a challenge that made Clones shudder.

For some reason Ryan Wylie popped up in support of Clerkin and transferred onto McManus who kicked a point.

The Clontibret man would add another two in a productive spell just prior to his goal.

It was noticeable too, how Tony Kernan attempted to put Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan off his game as he sauntered up to clip over a free from fifty yards.

Clearly, nothing fazes the Scotstown man.

It took 43 minutes for Jamie Clarke to get his first point but he had another two within 10 minutes as the match opened up.

Armagh were growing into it, they looked to have the balance right and made quick use of their substitutes as they reined in the margin to four points.

With Monaghan's habit of the previous two games of getting the jitters with the finishing line in sight, Paul Grimley's side looked primed for another grandstand finish.

It is in such exceptional circumstances, that exceptional players come to the fore.

Fintan Kelly took a short kick-out, it was helped on by Walshe and McManus to create a Finlay point.

Then McManus capped a patient build-up with another point, before two tricky frees. The second one came after Stefan Campbell was adjudged to have tripped McManus, who went down heavily, and Campbell was awarded a black card.

By that stage Armagh had already used their six subs and would be a man down for the last 10 minutes.

When McManus eventually lofted the free over, the game was up.

His final score, a sideline ball drilled over the bar from under the hill, drew the biggest cheer of the day as the crowd acknowledged his genius.

In two week's time, we will all be back here for Monaghan and Donegal's fourth meeting in the last two years.

Their rivalry is spiced by the clear impression that they don't really care much for each other.

It's simple. You can't afford to miss it.

Yellow cards: Monaghan – Wylie (34m), Clerkin (53m); Armagh – Morgan (38m)

Black cards: Armagh – Moriarty (23m), S Campbell (62m)

Red cards: 0

Referee: Martin Duffy (Sligo)

Attendance: 23,324.

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