Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 0-10: Farney boys rule Ulster
As the Monaghan fans poured out of the stands and terraces to hail their second Ulster title in three years after a 0-11 to 0-10 win over Donegal, the joyous scenes of people losing themselves stood as a marvellous contrast to the intensity and high-wire act that preceded it.
Malachy O'Rourke now takes his managerial record in Ulster matches as boss of Monaghan to eight wins from nine games. His adopted county know they have a man of serious substance who in turn has released the incredible potential of their footballers, such as captain Conor McManus.
In previous meetings between the Farney County and Donegal, Neil McGee has used his own means of intimidation. Yesterday, Clontibret man McManus scared the life out of McGee, refusing to be cowed and hitting three marvellous points from play.
The moment Monaghan fans truly believed it was possible came in the 32nd minute. By that stage, they were two points up but Christy Toye had possession tight on the touchline of what used to be known as the Roslea Road End.
In a flash, Ryan Wylie was all over him like an octopus, while McManus arrived to strip him of the ball. It fell loose and McManus rode the challenge of McGee before striking over the bar, spinning around to deliver a salty comment at the man who had been booked four minutes previously following a tangle on the ground.
That was when the Farney support began to believe. The players and managers were ahead of them in that regard.
Monaghan's players revealed afterwards that they had never been as prepared and as certain of victory. A number of guiding principles served them well.
Vinny Corey picked up Michael Murphy for the third consecutive Ulster final and the latter was rendered scoreless from play, only getting to show his free-taking talents with one in either half. From open play, he was dominated.
Monaghan adopted a policy of shooting on sight and refused to let themselves be discouraged by misses. Darren Hughes sacrificed his own dynamic game to patrol Ryan McHugh all afternoon. They clogged up the centre and pressured Donegal's shooters.
Colin Walshe made life uncomfortable for Paddy McBrearty, who shot three wides, all under severe pressure.
As the game settled into a pattern, it seemed every moment was of critical importance. Donegal went 0-3 to 0-1 ahead after five minutes, but Monaghan settled themselves. Their scores came from unlikely sources such as Karl O'Connell and Owen and Kieran Duffy and they had doubled Donegal's score by the 32nd minute.
By the time Murphy punished a Kieran Hughes foul on Frank McGlynn with a converted free, Donegal had gone 28 minutes without a score.
The much anticipated Donegal push in the third quarter was seriously impressive. They got key men into good positions and they rained shots down on Monaghan. They were falling wide of the posts, however.
The first 10 minutes of the second half brought six wides, two by the usually-accurate Colm McFadden, who was taken off for Darach O'Connor. McGlynn, Neil Gallagher and Odhran MacNiallais were also off-target.
All around them, Donegal's great performers were fading. Karl Lacey was withdrawn after a knock to his knee, while others became marginalised.
Their opposition were able to keep their tidal wave going thanks to a smart point from Owen Lennon and an astonishing pressure free that McManus earned from a McGee foul.
However, they failed to score in the last 20 minutes. Their final point was a turnover by Ryan Wylie, followed by a long delivery to McManus. Despite being double-marked by both McGees, he panicked them sufficiently into a botched fisted clearance. McManus feasted on the break and put it over, leaving five points between the sides.
And still Donegal came, dying with their boots on.
They brought serious energy, even though they were carving each score out of granite. Rory Gallagher's main tactical play at this point switched to getting McGlynn and the McHugh brothers Mark and Ryan to run at the defence to draw frees.
Murphy and McBrearty tacked on frees, with the latter landing a score from play that had the crowd humming as they narrowed it to two points with five minutes remaining - and a substantial period of injury-time on top of that.
There was the hint of a goal chance for Monaghan when a barnstorming run from O'Connell almost brought him right through only for an excellent tackle from McGlynn.
Mark McHugh won a free from Kieran Duffy, McBrearty arrowing over to leave the minimum in it, but the introduction of Dick Clerkin steadied Monaghan. He won a free from a Leo McLoone challenge which ate a bit of time, and closed down a threatening run.
The final act was a McBrearty shot which, had it been hit in Croke Park, would have required a second look on Hawkeye. Clones does not have Hawkeye. It had umpires to wave the effort wide and shortly after, referee David Coldrick called an end to this war.
On Saturday, a story was leaked that the Monaghan team would be kitted out in Tommy Bowe's fashion range after the final.
It was the type of story that teams hate as it puts them under pressure, but in the tunnels of Clones long after the final whistle, O'Rourke turned to his management team of Ryan Porter, Leo McBride and Finbar Fitzpatrick and quipped: "Let's get the chinos on now boys!"
Monaghan: R Beggan; V Corey, C Walshe, D Mone 0-1; R Wylie, N McAdam, K O'Connell 0-1; O Lennon 0-1, F Kelly; D Hughes, D Malone, K Duffy 0-1; O Duffy 0-1, K Hughes, C McManus 0-6, 3f. Subs: R McAnespie for O Duffy (46m), S Gollogly for Malone (54m), Clerkin for Lennon (69m).
Yellow cards: McManus (28m), K Hughes (32m), D Hughes (51m)
Donegal: P Durcan; N McGee, E McGee, P McGrath; F McGlynn 0-1, K Lacey 0-1, R McHugh; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais; C Toye, M McElhinney, M McHugh; M Murphy 0-2, 2f, P McBrearty 0-6, 4f C McFadden. Subs: M O’Reilly for Toye (32m), A Thompson for Lacey (40m), D O'Connor for McFadden (53m), L McLoone for MacNiallais (69m)
Yellow cards: Mc Glynn (12m), N McGee (28m)
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)