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Monaghan must go through pain barrier to sit on Ulster throne

By Joe Kernan

When a goalkeeper can take 13 steps with the ball without soloing and go unpunished in the last minute of a major championship tie, it serves to emphasise the very thin line that separates success from failure.

Monaghan custodian Rory Beggan was extremely fortunate to escape censure from benign referee Martin Duffy in last Saturday's Ulster semi-final against Cavan and as a result the Farney county will now enter the provincial decider for the third time in six years.

Duffy had been equally slack in failing to award Monaghan a penalty when a Cavan player clearly touched the ball on the ground during a goalmouth scramble early in the game.

The fate of a team can rest on such decisions – indeed, a whole season's work can be undermined by a whistler's error.

Monaghan though deserve to be in the final but they will come up against a Donegal side that have shown against both Tyrone and Down to date that they possess the appetite and more importantly the physical power and silken skills to retain their provincial crown.

It was interesting to note that Monaghan brought considerable physicality to the table in the last quarter against Cavan, notably via Dick Clerkin and Padraig Donaghy both of whom were introduced from the bench. This duo combined to discomfit Cavan yet the Breffni side still managed to remain on the attack to the end when their efforts to get at least a draw were thwarted by Duffy's inability to spot Beggan's transgression.

I am sure that watching Donegal manager Jim McGuinness will by now have fully digested Monaghan's performance and in particular the contributions of players like captain Owen Lennon, marksman supreme Conor McManus, defensive ace Colin Walsh and the lion-hearted Vinny Corey.

I suspect that having lost the two Ulster finals in which they have appeared over the past six years Monaghan will not want to make it a hat-trick of defeats.

And the fact that several players who participated in those reversals against Tyrone in 2007 (1-15 to 1-13) and again in 2010 (1-14 to 0-7) are still in the vanguard of the team's bid for provincial glory will add an extra edge to the July 21 showpiece.

Under the baton of previous manager Seamus McEnaney, Monaghan had come close to making the big breakthrough in a championship context.

But the good work that he did with the side is now paying dividends through the tactical expertise of new boss Malachy O'Rourke. Having already taken the side to promotion from Division Three, O'Rourke has overseen their arrival in the Ulster final in his first season in charge.

While Donegal will understandably be cast as favourites, O'Rourke will have Monaghan primed to go through the pain barrier in a bid to take their seat on the Ulster throne.

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