By Declan Rooney
Monaghan made short work of Leitrim as Conor McCarthy showed his class in the blistering sun of Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
McCarthy was outstanding for his side in a bright first-half and his three points gave Malachy O’Rourke’s side a six-point cushion, which they easily extended as the game descended to a canter in the baking Carrick on Shannon sunshine.
McCarthy bagged the only goal in the 69th minute to add to his three first-half points, while substitute Paudie McKenna added a couple of good scores to keep his side pointed towards the win.
It was a lightning fast start from Monaghan in Carrick on Shannon and barely 30 seconds had elapsed when Conor McManus’s long-range effort just crept over the crossbar of Diarmuid McKiernan.
Straight from the kick out McManus could have hit the net for Monaghan but he pulled his shot across the face of goal. Instead, Leitrim kicked the levelling point at the other end when Jack Heslin found the target when he crept in behind.
Conor McCarthy landed his first point in the seventh minute, which was matched at the other end by Heslin, who scored from an awkward angle. Leitrim continued to match Monaghan score for score but they failed to take the goal chances that came their way. Ryan O’Rourke was denied by Rory Beggan after nine minutes, while Darragh Rooney’s goal-bound effort was blocked by Dessie Ward five minutes later.
Monaghan too were guilty of not making the most of their chances, Darren Hughes was denied by McKiernan’s brilliant save after 20 minutes, although Beggan slotted the 45 that followed to open out a two point advantage for Monaghan.
McManus ended the first-half with four point, but he was lucky not to see red for an ugly lunge on Michael McWeeney, a foul that left the Leitrim defender limping and the Monaghan forward with a yellow card to his name from referee Niall Cullen.
Once Monaghan tightened up the gaps at the back and began to turnover the Leitrim ball carriers, their forwards began to shine. Six points in a row put them 0-9 to 0-3 ahead, and they carried that six-point lead into the break.
It was McCarthy’s turn to spurn a brilliant goal chance shortly after the restart when his shot on the turn flew past the post, but his captain Colin Walshe extended the lead following a driving run from deep after 40 minutes.
Following some great defending from McWeeney a turnover cost Leitrim a score when McManus split the posts, while Beggan stepped forward with a long range free to give his side a 0-13 to 0-4 lead with 20 minutes to go.
That lead should have been much stronger, but Monaghan went through a poor spell in front of goal and kicked five wides in succession, while Heslin and O’Rourke pointed for Leitrim to close the gap to seven.
But substitute Paudie McKenna landed to points before McCarthy palmed to the net with a minute to go to pad out the winning margin.
Scorers for Monaghan: Conor McCarthy 1-3 (2f), Conor McManus 0-5 (3f), Rory Beggan 0-2 (1f, 0-1 45), Jack McCarron 0-2 (2f), Paudie McKenna 0-2, Fintan Kelly 0-1, Karl O’Connell 0-1, Colin Walshe 0-1, Ryan Wylie 0-1, Dessie Ward 0-1.
Scorers for Leitrim: Emlyn Mulligan 0-4 (4f), Jack Heslin 0-3, Ryan O’Rourke 0-2.
Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, C Boyle (D Mone 54), R Wylie; F Kelly (P McKenna 47), C Walshe, D Ward; N Kearns, D Hughes (N McAdam 50); R McAnespie, D Malone (O Duffy 44), K O’Connell; C McCarthy, T Kerr (S Carey 44), C McManus (J McManus 61).
Leitrim: D McKiernan; P Maguire, J Mitchell, M McWeeney; J Rooney (N McWeeney 61), S Quinn, N Plunkett (C McGloin 35); J Heslin (E Ward 61), D Wrynn (J Gilheany 71); A Flynn, R O’Rourke, B Gallagher (D McGovern 33); D Rooney, D Moran (D Flynn 54), E Mulligan.
[b Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).