Down suffer defeat to Monaghan in battle of the benches
Down 1-16 Monaghan1-24
In his fifth year in charge of Monaghan, it could be argued that, with the benefit of experience in these situations, Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke has assembled his deepest panel yet, and recognises the value of a well-timed substitution.
This game was level three times and appeared to be heading for a grandstand finish or even extra-time, but then the Oriel replacements drifted on and changed the course of the game entirely.
Conor McCarthy with four classy points, Jack McCarron with two of his own straight from the Fine Arts Academy and Owen Duffy with a single, brought the tally from the bench to seven. It would have been more if Dessie Ward's footing had not betrayed him at a vital moment and his stabbed shot was deflected from the net by Kevin McKernan.
"It's just looking at the panel of players you have and seeing what suits best. There's days you maybe put them in from the start, there's days that maybe when the game opens up a wee bit, they perform better," said a pleased O'Rourke afterwards.
"It's just looking at each game on its own merits. There's some quality finishers there and getting that impact from the bench today was a big boost, but it's not always going to work like that."
There is much to recommend this Down team and how they pulled themselves together as the season went on, but the decision not to start Jerome Johnston was puzzling. And they don't have the same depth as Monaghan.
"Throughout the year when we made switches our bench worked really well for us. It worked well over the games in the Ulster Championship, the three games," was manager Eamonn Burns' assessment.
"Today is the first day it didn't give us the lift we were expecting. Monaghan's bench gave them an impetus going forward.
"I can't complain about my panel of players, they have put in serious effort this year. But that's the way it worked out."
And so Monaghan win only their second Championship win here at this venue in 87 years after improving on a first half that had both sides heading down the tunnel level on 1-9 each.
The highlight was Down's surprise package, Connaire Harrison accounting for three of them as he set to work against Drew Wylie.
"In fairness to Drew there's not that many full-forwards have given him that much bother over the last few years," said O'Rourke with a wry smile.
The Down defence found themselves poorly positioned when Darren Hughes, after a typically scattering run, popped a pass to Shane Carey. With a host of defenders drawn he slipped the ball to the unmarked Fintan Kelly, the defender hammering his shot hard past Michael Cunningham for his third consecutive Championship goal in the 26th minute.
At the back, O'Rourke made running repairs, switching Ryan Wylie onto Harrison with Kelly sweeping, but when a flighted Darragh O'Hanlon ball went in the direction of Harrison and Kelly, the break and a lucky deflection favoured Conor Maginn and the ball spilled to Harrison to stab home.
A five-minute spell was then dominated by Monaghan, hitting five points without reply between the 45th and 50th minutes.
McCarron opened his account with a lovely delayed shot dummy and point, Ryan Wylie sped upfield for one and Kieran Hughes added to his fine point from play and difficult free in the first half.
Conor McCarthy came on and scored with his first possession and swiftly added another point while McManus gained his first from play under serious pressure.
Those scores gave Monaghan the cushion they needed, but they are far from perfect.
Sean Dornan and Kevin McKernan both had clear-cut goal chances in the first half and the opposition in store will have noted how Harrison might have set up Conor Maginn and kept his own shot under the bar late in the second half to have picked up more goals.
At this stage of the season however, it's just all about staying alive.
Down: Cunningham; McParland, McGovern, O'Hagan; O'Hanlon 0-2, 2f, McGovern, Mooney 0-1; Turley, Donnelly; McKernan 0-2, Maginn 0-2, S Millar 0-1; Dornan, Harrison 1-4, Johnston.
Subs: Johnston 0-3, 1f for Dornan 49mins; Carr for Turley 52, McKibbin 0-1 for Millar 58, Poland for Maginn 58, O'Hare for Mooney 68, Murphy for Johnston 76
Yellow cards: Donnelly (10), J Johnston (66), McKibben (75)
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
Monaghan: Beggan; Kelly 1-0, Wylie, R Wylie 0-1; Duffy, Walshe, O'Connell; Hughes 0-3, 1f, Hughes 0-3; Doogan, D Malone, McAnespie; Carey, Freeman, McManus 0-10, 8f.
Subs: Duffy 0-1 for Malone HT; McCarron 0-2 for Carey HT, McCarthy 0-4 for Freeman 46, Ward for Doogan 49 (blood), Corey for Walsh 62, Doogan for McAnespie 69, O'Connell for Mone 71
Yellow cards: D Wylie (66)
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)