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GAA: Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13


Down's Ruairi Wells and Ronan McAlinden tackle Monaghan's David McAllister

Down's Ruairi Wells and Ronan McAlinden tackle Monaghan's David McAllister

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Down's Ruairi Wells and Ronan McAlinden tackle Monaghan's David McAllister

Stitched on to the back of the collars of the Down shirts for this match were the Latin words, 'acriter et fideliter'.

It is the motto of the Swiss Guards, protectors of every pope in the Vatican City for over 500 years, and it essentially means 'courage and loyalty', depending on which classical scholar provides the translation.

To book a place in an Ulster final for the first time in nine years, Down needed both virtues in abundance at the Morgan Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

Some of the loyalty espoused came from the management, whose decision to throw Benny Coulter into the fray in the closing stages, less than eight weeks after he sustained a broken ankle, was wholly justified with a superb right-footed point.

Another veteran of more than a decade, Liam Doyle, was also parachuted in despite an absence dating back to the early stages of the league and he too contributed an important free.

But most of all it was the courage of the Down players to take control of this semi-final in the second half and chase first a nine-point and then a five-point deficit with a conviction that really stood out.

They trailed by 0-11 to 0-2 as half-time approached, before being awarded a penalty, and had been as bad as any Down team in recent Ulster championship history.

"Phone-a-cab were waiting for me outside before half-time, I had already booked him," wisecacked Down manager James McCartan afterwards.

"It was very disappointing at half-time and I was really disappointed with the way the boys played because I knew they were better than that.

"I had played in a lot of Down teams that had probably raised the white flag too. I suppose I didn't want them to go through the feelings I had gone through with Down teams maybe in the late 1990s that didn't do themselves justice. I just asked them to go out and put their bodies on the line."

They did so impressively and that response culminated in enterprising half-back Darren O'Hagan reacting best to a break off a speculative Aidan Carr delivery and fisting over what proved to be the winning point. Monaghan still had time to salvage something, but Dick Clerkin screwed his kick across the goal and wide from 25 metres.

The Farney men will be devastated that the lead they nurtured with such control in a wind-assisted opening half was discarded so easily. It was the best football they'd played since the 2010 Ulster quarter-final against Armagh.

But not even the respite of a Tommy Freeman goal on 57 minutes, with their opponents breathing down their necks, could avert their slide from such a commanding position. There can't have been much appetite for the qualifiers around Monaghan last night, not after a defeat like this.

For some of their more experienced campaigners, it really does look like the last chance to win an Ulster title has now passed them by.

The soft side of the Ulster championship draw presented an opportunity and for 35 minutes they looked like they would seize it.

But the lifeline of a Down penalty, just before half-time, which Carr converted after Vinny Corey bundled over Conor Laverty, was "key", as McCartan described it afterwards, to their comeback in the second half.

There was a suggestion that Laverty had overcarried after his link-up with Kalum King before Corey fouled him. But that was the nature of the decisions from Michael Duffy all afternoon. It wasn't one of his more distinguished performances and the Down support were left feeling particularly aggrieved. Even after the final whistle was sounded, they voiced their disapproval, which was unusual.

"It's hard to be objective along the line," admitted McCartan. "I thought there was more than one shout for a penalty. I felt a lot of big calls didn't go our way. Every time we seemed to get a bit of momentum ... even the Monaghan goal, I'm not sure. We felt he called the full-back over to book him and then he played on so the full-back is out of the game and then he books him after."

There was another contentious penalty shout in the second half when Danny Hughes pounced on a Laverty pass in the Monaghan goalmouth, while the free awarded to Conor McManus to re-open a three-point gap with eight minutes remaining looked a soft call.

Freeman's goal after a quick free from McManus had caught the Down defence flat-footed as Duffy did appear to be calling Brendan McArdle to book him. That made it 1-12 to 1-7 on 57 minutes and should have killed off Down's momentum, which had been building nicely since the restart.

Just as McManus had been in the opening half for Monaghan, Laverty was the focus for Down in the second period as his pace and elusiveness gave Corey a torrid time. In Corey's defence, the protection in front of him wasn't what it should have been in the circumstances.

McManus scored four first-half points, two from frees, and Monaghan looked really comfortable, with Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe and Dessie Mone all dominant in defence and Dick Clerkin controlling matters around the middle. They looked far removed from a Division 3 team in those 35 minutes.

But the transformation in Down for the second half was overwhelming.

Through Hughes, Carr, Mark Poland and the powerhouse midfield of Rogers and King, they dominated. Everything they did wrong in the first half they corrected in the second.

The spring in Monaghan's step quickly disappeared as Down sank their teeth into the six-point deficit. By the 49th minute, it was down to one point, 0-11 to 1-7, as Laverty swivelled for his second successive score.

Monaghan had scarcely crossed into enemy territory by that stage and the memory of eight first-half wides was beginning to sink in.

Scorers - Down: D O'Hare 0-5 (5f), A Carr 1-2, (1-0 pen, 1f), C Laverty 0-2, A Rogers (f), D O'Hagan, K Duffin, L Doyle (f), B Coulter 0-1 each. Monaghan: P Finlay (3f), C McManus (3f) 0-5 each, T Freeman 1-0, D Hughes 0-2 (1f, 1 45), D Clerkin 0-1.

Down - B McVeigh 8; C Garvey 5, B McArdle 7, G McCartan 6; D McCartan 4, K McKernan 6, D O'Hagan 8; A Rogers 8, K King 7; D Hughes 8, M Poland 7, A Carr 8; D O'Hare 6, C Laverty 8, E McCartan 5. Subs: K Duffin 5 for D McCartan, L Doyle for Duffin (62), B Coulter for O'Hare (65).

Monaghan - M Keogh 7; D Wylie 8, V Corey 6, C Walshe 7; D Hughes 6, D Mone 7, K O'Connell 5; O Lennon 6, D Clerkin 7; P Dooney 5, S Gollogly 6, J Turley 6; K Hughes 5; P Finlay 7, C McManus 8. Subs: K Duffy 5 for Dooney (50), T Freeman 7 for K Hughes (50), N McAdam for Turley (66), C Hanratty for Gollogly (71).

Ref - M Duffy (Sligo)

Belfast Telegraph