Fortune favours the brave and nowhere more so than in a sporting context.
Seldom though has such irrefutable evidence to substantiate this theory been on offer than was the case at Casement Park yesterday when Monaghan maintained the weekend savaging of the All Ireland Championship formbook by humbling an Armagh side bent on claiming what would have been their eighth Ulster title in 11 years.
Monaghan did not just take their cue from the shock wins recorded by Sligo and Louth a matter of hour earlier but in revealing stoic resolve in their determination not to make a drama out of a crisis they hinted at a growing maturity, strength of character and ripening skills that could yet take them to provincial silverware for the first time in 22 years.
Confronted by an eleventh-hour setback when it was confirmed that regular goalkeeper Shane Duffy’s injury had not responded to treatment sufficiently to allow him to play, Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney took what he was to refer to later as “the hardest decision of my life.”
He jettisoned understudy Sean Gorman, who immediately exited the match squad, and instead dramatically re-shaped his side with Darren Hughes, a UUJ student who had been named at full-back, taking over as custodian, Eoin Lennon stepping into a midfield role and John Paul Mone going to full-back.
It was a calculated gamble that reaped dividends far in excess of those coveted by the most optimistic Farney county fans.
For Monaghan did not just leave Armagh marooned in ignominy yesterday — they rapped out a sharp message that their protracted spell as also-rans in the Ulster series has now been terminated. And in the process Hughes was superb in goal, Lennon a midfield colossus and Mone an imposing presence in a defence that grew in authority as the game progressed.
If Stevie McDonnell gave the impression that the Orchard County were about to enjoy another routine day at the office when he whisked over three points in an early blitz, then Tommy Freeman’s slickly-taken 12th minute goal was to prove the precursor to Monaghan’s most complete performance in the Ulster Championship for many years.
Armagh will point to Brian Mallon’s somewhat harsh dismissal by referee Martin Sludden in the 34th minute following a frontal challenge on Rory Woods as the beginning of the end of their provincial title ambitions for this year but even at that point it was becoming clear that Monaghan had already discovered the key to unlock the Orchard County rearguard. Monaghan’s 1-7 to 0-6 interval lead may have represented a rather modest return for some enterprising artistry but with Finlay and Freeman having already performed their scoring overture by then, they went on to exhibit a classical symphony in the second period.
Armagh were held scoreless from the 18th to the 48th minute — in itself a telling statistical commentary — and in that spell Monaghan inflicted mortal wounds on their pride, morale and, significantly, their staying power.
It was debutant Jamie Clarke and the courageous Paul Duffy who pirated a brace of points to end the bizarre orchard county scoring famine but such a minute crumb of comfort was clinically sabotaged as Monaghan. Man-of-the-match Finlay, virtually infallible when it came to finishing, and Clerkin thundered over two majestic long-range efforts as their side hit seven more scores in an exhibition-style climax that had their fans in the 11,875 crowd in raptures.
They will now meet the winners of next Saturday’s last quarter-final between Cavan and Fermanagh in the semi-final and following yesterday’s compelling showcase neither of these two sides will exactly relish that confrontation.
ARMAGH: P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, V Martin; P Duffy (0-1), C McKeever, F Moriarty; C Vernon, K Toner; M Mackin, A Kernan (0-1, free), G Swift (0-1); B Mallon, S McDonnell (0-4), J Clarke (0-2). Subs: J Lavery for Mackin, K Dyas for Martin (both half-time). Yellow cards: McDonnell (32 mins), Kernan (40), Toner (49). Red card: Mallon (34 mins).
MONAGHAN: D Hughes; D Mone, J P Mone, C Walshe; D Freeman (0-1), V Corey (0-1) , G McQuaid; D Clerkin (0-2), E Lennon; S Gollogly, P Finlay (0-7, 0-3 frees, 1 ‘45’), K Hughes; C Hanratty (0-1), C McManus (0-1, free), T Freeman (1-4). Subs: R Woods for Gollogly (22 mins), D McArdle for D Mone (25), H McElroy (0-1) for Hanratty (51), F Caulfield for K Hughes (57), N McAdam for D Freeman (67). Yellow cards: Gollogly (4 mins), J P Mone (11), Walshe (15), T Freeman (20), Clarekin (47), K Hughes (56).
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).