It's onwards and upwards for Monaghan.
Fuelled by burning ambition and cushioned by layers of hitherto latent skill and cohesion, Seamus McEnaney’s crusading troops booked themselves a mouth-watering Ulster final showdown with reigning champions Tyrone on July 18 on the back of this comprehensive destruction of Fermanagh yesterday at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan.
Monaghan’s seven-point victory margin does not even begin to hint at the level of authority they wielded for the most part, the Ernesiders only salvaging a modicum of self-respect when the Farney men eventually removed their foot from the throttle in the closing minutes.
Yet it is a measure of Monaghan’s incessant pursuit of perfection that McEnaney, rather than hailing a significant victory, preferred to place strong emphasis on what he felt was a disappointing second-half performance in which his team scored just five points from play.
“I would not be happy at all about our second-half effort,” rapped McEnaney.
“That would be nowhere near good enough to take into an Ulster final against a team which has won three All Ireland titles and which has been one of the best sides in the country over the past seven years.”
Erne county manager Malachy O’Rourke, dignified and honest in defeat, did not seek refuge in excuses.
“We felt we had prepared well for the game on the back of our win over Cavan but after the first ten minutes Monaghan got away from us and after that we were playing catch-up,” he said.
Even by the half-way stage it was abundantly clear that O’Rourke’s side had bitten off more than they could chew in this one.
Restricted to engaging in prosaic sideways and backwards passing, they clearly lacked invention and penetration. And with Monaghan wing-backs Damien Freeman and Gary McQuaid released from the burden of defensive duties because of Fermanagh’s feeble efforts up front, they were able to drive forward repeatedly in support of their inside men, peppering ace marksman and Tommy
Freeman and clever technician Conor McManus in particular with quality possession.
They in turn maximised this silver service, the ubiquitous Freeman whipping over three smart points with his brother Damien and Clerkin each grabbing a brace to complement a hat-trick of scores from Paul Finlay that all helped to form the lion’s share of Monaghan’s 0-14 interval.
Fermanagh responded with just three points, their forays into Monaghan territory more often that not being repelled through a combination of sharp tackling, wrong options on their own part and a tendency to carry the ball down blind alleys.
Indeed, from the 11th minute until half-time Fermanagh scored just once — a statistic that provided perhaps the most emphatic commentary on their first half efforts. Paul Ward’s 24th minute
point complemented two earlier scores from Daryl Keenan and Daniel Ward but these scores were nothing more than minor irritants to Monaghan’s soaring confidence.
And while McEnaney may have been less than impressed with his team’s second-half effort, their overall authority was never challenged. Points from Finlay, McManus and Freeman took them over the horizon at 0-17 to 0-4 as Fermanagh boss O’Rourke desperately sought to plug rearguard gaps by enlisting aid from his substitutes’ bench.
Yet if they were forced to touch their forelock to their opponents when it came to teamwork and flair, Fermanagh’s gutsy last quarter yielded 2-2, their goals coming from Rory Gallagher in the 60th minute and Daryl Keenan in the 71st minute with Seamus Quigley again helping to breathe some fire into the attack.
\[Peter Hutcheon\]It was, not surprisingly, a classic case of too little too late. Lively substitute Hugh McElroy inflicted more mortal wounds on Fermanagh’s morale with three points from play to keep his side firmly ensconced in the comfort zone.
\[Peter Hutcheon\]And as Fermanagh battled in vain to finish on a high, Monaghan were already focused on mentally contemplating their strategy for a confrontation with Mickey Harte’s men that could prove to be one of the best contests of the All Ireland Championship season overall.FERMANAGH: Ronan Gallagher; N Bogue, S Lyons, B Mulrone; D Ward (0-1), R McCluskey, T McElroy; J Sherry, M McGrath; D Keenan (1-1), R Carson (0-1), M Little; P Ward (0-1), Rory Gallagher (1-2, 0-1 ‘45’), C. O’Brien Subs; M O’Brien for Lyons (20), S Quigley (0-1) for P Ward (43), K Cosgrove for McGrath (48), R Keenan (0-1) for O’Brien (67). Yellow cards: Lyons (15 mins), McGrath (24), McCluskey (48), Bogue (52), D Ward (61), Quigley (70).
MONAGHAN: D Hughes; D McArdle, J P Mone, C Walshe; D Freeman (0-1), V Corey, G McQuaid; D Clerkin (0-2), E Lennon (0-1); S Gollogly (0-1), P Finlay (0-6, 0-5 frees), K Hughes; C Hanratty, C McManus (0-2, 0-1 free), T Freeman (0-5). Subs: R Woods for Hanratty (22 mins), H McElroy (0-3) for Gollogly (half-time), D Mone for McArdle (53), M McElroy for K Hughes (62), N McAdam for D Freeman (66). Yellow cards: D Freeman (18 mins), Gollogly (31), Finlay (45).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).
l The Ulster Senior Football Championship final between Tyrone and Monaghan will be at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones on Sunday, July 18. The match will be preceded by the Ulster Minor football final. Tyrone Minors will take on either Armagh or Cavan.