Monaghan advantage of strength in numbers
The good, the bad and the ugly all had a day out in Clones yesterday but it's the latter which, in the light of some unfortunate developments on GAA fields recently, will command most attention.
A bust-up which erupted just before half-time didn't look all that serious initially but the numbers involved grew rapidly to a stage where a majority of the players were caught up in the unseemly squabble as they left the pitch for half-time. The clashes continued right across the pitch and spilled into the tunnel and were to have a dramatic impact on Kildare, who had defender Brian Flanagan sent off on a straight red card as he lined up for the second half.
Referee Joe McQuillan embarked on a disciplinary tour before the restart, stopping off to book Dessie Mone and Dick Clerkin (Monaghan) and Padraig O'Neill (Kildare) before dismissing Flanagan. All the sanctions related to the earlier incident where it was extremely difficult to identify the main culprits but obviously McQuillan saw enough to decide that Flanagan merited a dismissal.
It left Kildare, who were three points behind (0-9 to 0-6), facing a massive problem in the second half, one which they rarely looked like solving. Even if it were 15 against 15, it's likely Monaghan would have won as they had been by far the more enterprising side throughout a first half, during which they scored nine times and kicked only two wides.
Kildare sprinted from the blocks, kicking three unanswered points before Monaghan responded with two of their own, grasping the initiative.
The Lilywhites lost the second half by 0-8 to 0-6 as Monaghan cleverly built on the numerical advantage. Both managers played down the ugly incident but there can be no doubt that the sight of over two dozen players confronting each other for nearly two minutes is yet another major embarrassment to the GAA.
"I thought it was just an awful lot of pushing but you don't want to see these things. I just wanted to get the boys off the field and into the dressing-room," said Monaghan manager Eamonn McEneaney.
Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney said: "There seemed to be something happening on the pitch and then it went on the sideline; people were shouting at each other in the tunnel. There's a lot of testosterone flowing out there. People don't want to be seen backing down."
If the ugly was represented by the unsavoury incident, the good was epitomised by the structure and efficiency which Monaghan brought to the assignment. It was led with real creativity by Paul Finlay, who turned in an outstanding performance.
He scored 0-7 (0-4 from play), made a few other points and also took Kildare defenders down all sorts of channels which opened up extra room for his attacking colleagues. Kieran Hughes and Eoin Duffy were among those who prospered; further back, Dick Clerkin was an industrious presence around midfield while David Hughes, Darren Hughes and Dessie Mone led a compact defensive effort.
One of the most significant improvements in Monaghan's play was in their finishing. They kicked 16 wides against Meath eight days earlier but were off target only six times yesterday, most of which came late on when the win had been secured.
"We had some excellent shooting today, which was great to see after last week. We were disappointed with the amount of wides we kicked against Meath so we worked hard on that aspect during the week," said McEneaney.
The bad was represented by Kildare's overall display, which was once again punctuated by their poor finishing. They kicked 13 wides and never once looked like threatening to break through for a goal. Not even the introduction of John Doyle in the 25th minute made any appreciable difference on a day when their top scorer was left half-back, Eoghan O'Flaherty who kicked 0-5 (0-3 from frees).
Two successive defeats have jeopardised Kildare's promotion ambitions as they would almost certainly have to win all five remaining games to have any chance of being in the top two.
"We used more fringe players in the league so far than we had previously and we hoped they could step up but things haven't worked out for them," said McGeeney.
Kildare would have fancied their chances yesterday but they never got any real momentum going and were chasing the game once Monaghan made such a bright start. Losing Flanagan for the second half was another blow and with Monaghan growing in confidence and efficiency, they looked certain winners from a long way out.
"This was a huge game for ourselves and Kildare because you don't want to be going into the three-week break with no points. Kildare are a team that everybody has been looking at since the start of the year but our fellas stood up well to them today. Still, it's only one step along the way," said McEneaney.
The defeat leaves Kildare pointless alongside Derry and Westmeath and, with only two of their remaining five games in Newbridge, they have slipped down the list of promotion contenders.
"Our half-forward line wasn't firing at all today," said McGeeney. "Also, we missed a couple of scores in the second quarter which damaged us. Monaghan played well and with us a man down, it was always going to be tough."
On yesterday's evidence, there are more tough days ahead for Kildare while Monaghan have moved back among the promotion chasers.
"We did a lot of things right - it was a good day for us," said McEneaney.
Sadly the same couldn't be said for the GAA's image.
Man of the Match: Paul Finlay (Monaghan)
Scorers - Monaghan P Finlay 0-7 (3f), E Duffy, K Hughes, M McKenna 0-2 each, D Hughes, D Clerkin, D Malone, J Turley 0-1 each. Kildare: E O'Flaherty 0-5 (3f), M Conway, (1f), E Callaghan 0-3 each, P Fogarty 0-1.
Monaghan - M Keogh 7; R McNally 7, D Hughes 8, V Corey 7; D Malone 7, D Mone 7, D Hughes 8; D Clerkin 7, J Turley 7; M McKenna 7, P Finlay 9, S Gollogly 7; E Duffy 8, K Hughes 8, D Morgan 7. Subs: N McAdam 7 for McNally (50), M Downey 6 for McKenna (61), D Wylie for D Hughes (71), C McGuinness for Gollogly (71).
Kildare - S Connolly 7; M Scanlon 5, H McGrillen 5, O Lyons 6; B Flanagan 5, T O'Neill 6, E O'Flaherty 7; D Flynn 6, R Sweeney 5; E Callaghan 7, M Conway 6, P O'Neill 5; P Fogarty 6, T O'Connor 5, K Donnelly 5. Subs: J Doyle 5 for Donnelly (24), J Kavanagh 5 for O'Connor (40), M Foley 6 for Scanlon (45), A Smith 5 for P O'Neill (56), G White 5 for Sweeney (62).
Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)