Monaghan burn off neighbours in second half as Fermanagh falter
Monaghan 1-20 Fermanagh 1-11
The importance of a settled panel has never been better illustrated than in Clones on Saturday night.
Since they reached the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final and had a credible defeat to champions Dublin, Fermanagh have lost no fewer than 20 panel members to travelling, retirement and injuries. From the team that put it up to Mayo in Castlebar last year, only six starters were able to take their place for this preliminary round tie.
By contrast, Malachy O'Rourke has managed to hold on to his panel veterans. A Dick Clerkin or Tommy Freeman may eventually be allowed to retire gracefully, but it is always more of a trickle than the annual Fermanagh deluge.
That allows O'Rourke to be able to introduce the likes of Owen Duffy from the bench soon into the second half. He kicked three points from play in a spell that yielded 10 consecutive Monaghan points, pulling them clear when they looked for long periods of the first half that they were running out of ideas.
They now face Cavan in Breffni Park in a cracking quarter-final. Fermanagh head for the qualifiers, but God only knows what kind of appetite they will have for it.
If they just review their first half performance, then they will gain some encouragement. Apart from gifting Monaghan their only goal when goalkeeper Thomas Treacy kicked a restart straight to Jack McCarron who dished off perfectly for Conor McManus to stroke to the net, they more than matched their hosts, even grabbing their first goal since the first night of the National League through Ryan Lyons.
But they were always living dangerously. A mixture of inexperience and a lack of depth was acknowledged by manager Pete McGrath afterwards, who talked of the lack of 'resources' -a handy euphemism for 'players' - in his analysis of the defeat.
Going in two points down at half-time 1-6 to 1-8, they never really got going as Monaghan pushed up and pressed them higher up the pitch as the rain came down in a dark, moody Clones.
Fatigue set in. Fermanagh began to play individually while Monaghan's strike team of Conor McManus and Jack McCarron were able to thrive as spaces opened up for them.
Fermanagh's difficulties were compounded by a lack of concentration, especially in trying to work the ball out of their defence. Conor Murphy's hand pass was robbed by substitute Ryan McAnespie and although he was hauled down, a subsequent McManus goalbound shot was saved before Vinny Corey tried an audacious backheel that was deflected out.
Another stray ball in defence was seized upon by Conor McCarthy who tried to place his shot past Treacy who made up for his earlier mistake by getting his leg and boot in the road.
The lack of a point of reference in attack also hurt Fermanagh. A few balls were sent in towards Sean Quigley favouring the Roslea attacker, but at the vital second his marker Drew Wylie would steal possession.
Quigley's half-hearted attempt at a tackle as Duffy breezed by him to kick a point summed up his afternoon.
It's a shame that the Ulster Championship begins like this but it highlights in some ways that change is needed in competition structures.
Margins and performances like this strips away the mystique of the Ulster Championship. And plenty are waking up to that fact, given the paltry attendance that paid through the gates.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; F Kelly 0-1, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe 0-2, V Corey, N McAdam 0-1; K Hughes 0-1, K O'Connell 0-1; G Doogan 0-1, S Carey 0-1, D Ward; C McCarthy 0-2, J McCarron 0-2 1f, C McManus 1-3, 1f
Subs: O Duffy 0-3, for Carey (42), D Malone 0-1, for Ward (49), K Duffy for Corey (58), D Mone 0-1, for Kelly (62), M Bannigan for McCarthy (68)
Yellow cards: 0
Black cards: Hughes, replaced by R McAnespie (8)
Red cards: 0
FERMANAGH: T Treacy; M Jones, C Cullen, C McManus; A Breen 0-2, R McCluskey, CP Murphy; E Donnelly, L Cullen 0-1; B Mulrone, R Lyons 1-0, P McCusker; K Connor, S Quigley 0-2 1f, T Corrigan 0-5, 4f
Subs: R Jones for Connor (49), E Courtney 0-1 for Quigley (54), C Beacom for Lyons, D Keenan for McCusker (58)
Yellow cards: 0
Black cards: 0
Red cards: 0
Referee: Derek O'Mahony (Tipperary)