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Cap fits as Monaghan's wait now over

By Declan Bogue

Maybe it’s the cap. As Louth manager, Eamonn McEneaney always sported one as a nod to the county sponsors, but standing in the tunnel here with a wry smile playing on his lips, he looked the coolest customer in Clones.

“The most important thing for us was that when it was 1-8 to |1-6, we showed that bit of character is still there, that the Monaghan fighting spirit is alive and well, and we came back to win it,” said the Monaghan boss.

This was a game that was purely about the winning.

Without an Ulster Championship win in Clones since 2003, the Farney men were desperate for it but they didn’t get it all their own way either, according to their manager when he assessed the pattern the game took on.

“Antrim are very difficult to break down. They were playing with a sweeper and with men back,” he said.

“With 10 or 11 men having to break them down, it’s not easy as you can see, but our boys battled away.

“We won our own ball in the first half from kickouts, but they won seven out of eight of their’s and we weren’t happy with that.

“Then in the second half we were picking up the ball when it was breaking in front but when it broke in behind they were getting a race in at goals at us.

“James Loughrey got away for a goal from one of those. Antrim are a decent side and they are hard to break down. They set up their stall to try and keep us out and by and large they did.

“You have to be patient, you have to probe and it’s not the nicest spectacle in the world, but I can’t fault the boys for effort out there, we certainly worked hard.”

He says it wasn’t much to look at, yet the highlights reel will not look too shabby.

“The scores from both sides were from the top drawer and some moments of skill were sublime, even with the early removal of Paul Finlay.

“Paul is our top scorer all year,” said McEneaney.

“And he was captain of the team so we were sorry to see him go off.

“These sort of injuries, these impact injuries, have been haunting us and we picked up another one today. Please God he will be okay, but we have one match over us so we are going to savour today.”

So all hail Tommy Freeman?

“Obviously the introduction of Tommy Freeman was a big impetus to the thing and he got a few scores.

“Anybody who has watched our football this year knows that we can play open football as well as anybody else, but today wasn’t a day when that was going to be possible,” he said.

“There were some great scores there in the second half and they needed to be good.

“Tommy got one, it was a fabulous score. Kieran Hughes got one in the first half — I don’t know how he actually got his shot in with two men blocking him — and Pete Dooney with the outside of his right foot.”

Away from the winners enclosure, the mood wasn’t as relaxed in the Saffrons camp.

Liam Bradley has a relentless level of ambition but sometimes you wonder if it is matched by his players.

“This is a match we should have won, there is no doubt about that,” said a rueful Bradley.

“We had put ourselves into a good position but were unable to push on.

“We are bitterly disappointed because we thought that we were in the right half of the draw to get to an Ulster final but obviously that is not going to happen now.

“I would have wanted us to still have been involved in the Ulster Championship in July.”

While it is an intoxicating brand of evangelism he preaches, ultimately it is tinged with a lingering feeling of ‘what if’.

“Most of the lads can hold their heads up high but that does not ease the feeling of regret and frustration. I feel so sorry for the players because they gave so much but have nothing to show for their efforts.

“We are going into the qualifiers but that is not where we want to be.”

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