Tyrone in exit drama
Monaghan hold firm as Harte's men face qualifiers
Monaghan 1-12, Tyrone 0-14
Sean Cavanagh did everything in his power to drag Tyrone back into this contest in the last five minutes and yet the symmetry of the finish will haunt him as his side failed to nab what would have been a scarcely-deserved replay as they went tumbling out of the Ulster Championship.
With two minutes of normal time left and Tyrone down by three points, Cavanagh was sprinting goalwards when he and Darren Hughes fell in a heap. From certain angles it appeared a blatant rugby tackle, other images suggested a tug on Hughes' arm to bring him down.
Either way, it was a black card for Hughes, and a pointed free from substitute Connor McAliskey, who soon added another to leave one point in it with the game in injury time.
Then, the final act.
With panic rising in the Monaghan defence and a trace of white line fever, Dessie Mone was turned over by Mark Donnelly. He got it to Cavanagh who shimmied to the outside and benefited from a generous free from referee Eddie Kinsella after he was closed down by Stephen Gollogly and Dick Clerkin.
The free was just in front of the Gerry Arthurs Stand. Tricky, but achievable and quite close to the spot where McAliskey had nailed his free a couple of minutes earlier, and indeed a similar position to where Cavanagh himself notched against Down in the preliminary round to earn them a replay. Around 40 yards out, but suiting a right-footed kicker.
Neither man hit the free, instead leaving it for goalkeeper Niall Morgan to trot upfield, but his effort sailed wide.
When asked afterwards why he didn't take the kick himself, Cavanagh replied, reminding us that Morgan had been black-carded by the end of the first game against Down.
"I'm captain of the team and I make the decisions. Niall kicks those in his sleep in training and he will kick it in his sleep again. It just didn't go over for him but I have no regrets about not taking it," he explained.
It says something about Tyrone's competitive nature that they were even in the game at that stage, having been outclassed in so many sectors of this game.
One by one, though, doors of perception are opening for this Monaghan team. Last year they punctured the myth of Donegal. Here, they stared into the abyss of a 26-year run without a win against neighbours Tyrone and went for it, gaining entry to a Saturday night Ulster semi-final on June 28th against Armagh.
They know they are on the right track with manager Malachy O'Rourke, who sprang a minor surprise of starting Conor McManus.
He might have only been there to spook Tyrone and kick frees, but he nailed all six of his attempts.
With Kieran Duffy sweeping and Ryan Wylie operating as an extra defender, Monaghan looked a more sturdy outfit, edging in at half-time a point ahead.
They even had the luxury of a missed penalty. With the teams locked at 0-5 each after the first quarter, a high ball in from Paudie McKenna was not dealt with by Justin McMahon on the edge of the Tyrone square.
Dessie Mone nipped in for the break and Ronan McNabb made enough contact for a penalty to be awarded.
Kieran Hughes, having earlier just failed to hit the net with a lobbed attempt on a stranded Morgan, this time hit the post.
During the week, Morgan had raised legitimate concerns that Dublin's Stephen Cluxton seems to be well-served with ball boys when they play at Croke Park. The Ulster Council responded by saying they would invite applications from teams if they wanted to use ball boys.
However, Tyrone used the injured Conor Clarke behind Morgan's goal, without having made an application. Clarke was captured on camera behind the goal during the penalty, creating a distraction.
Even without this, there were signs that Monaghan were in better shape. Beggan and McManus carved up four consecutive frees as Tyrone constructed a blanket defence yet couldn't sort their tackling out.
Kieran Duffy also pushed up on Tyrone sweeper Ronan McNabb, forcing Tyrone to surrender their 100% possession policy with short kickouts. And in the midfield battle, Hughes and Clerkin ruled the skies.
The decisive play arrived eight minutes after the restart. when Clerkin drilled a crossfield ball to the willing Hughes, committing the Tyrone cover before laying off to Dermot Malone (pictured) who jinked into a better angle before slamming home.
Matthew Donnelly, with some typically bullish play began the fightback.
Monaghan's response was another brace of pointed frees from McManus to keep themselves at arm's length. Soon after, their most dangerous attacker McCurry was black-carded. Then came the closing drama.
Soon after the final whistle went, Darren Hughes ran onto the field, barging into Tyrone selector Gavin Devlin first and then Stephen O'Neill in an out-of-character outpouring of emotion.
Meanwhile, Mickey Harte had to be restrained by his son, team physio Michael, after he confronted match referee Eddie Kinsella.
Tyrone go into the first round of the qualifiers, and will meet Louth in Healy Park on June 28th.
Judging by the demeanour of Harte when he refused to speak to the media afterwards for the first time in memory, they are hurting.
But they will be back.
Yellow cards: Monaghan – Donaghy (58 mins), Mone (63 mins); Tyrone – McNabb (25 mins), S O'Neill (49 mins), Mattie Donnelly (58 mins), S Cavanagh (72 mins)
Black cards: Monaghan – Malone (63 mins), D Hughes (68 mins); Tyrone – McCurry (60 mins)
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)
Attendance: 20, 268