By Francis Mooney
Monaghan 2-22 Down 0-9
Merciless Monaghan sent Down crashing to a record Ulster Football Championship defeat with a thumping 19 points hammering at Clones.
Following a highly competitive first half showing, the Mourne men collapsed dramatically after the break as the defending provincial champions sliced open their defence at will to coast through to a semi-final meeting with either Dongal or Fermanagh.
Kieran Hughes and Owen Duffy capped a dominant display with goals in the final quarter as the men in red and black capitulated.
All four games to date in the notoriously competitive Ulster SFC have been one-sided affairs, and the series is crying out for a genuine battle, with one quarter-final still to be played, next weekend’s meeting of Donegal and Fermanagh.
Kieran Hughes opened the scoring in the first minute, but a dogged Down defence made life difficult for the Farney attack, tackling like tigers and turning over possession to break at pace.
The Mourne men hit the front in the fourth minute when Conor Maginn swept over a brilliant score from far out on the left, after Barry O’Hagan had punched over their opener.
Kevin McKernan’s industry around the middle kept the Down motor ticking as they quickly responded to a second Hughes point, with Darragh O’Hanlon thumping over a couple of long range frees.
By the end of the opening quarter, they led by 0-4 to 0-2, and Monaghan’s All-Star attacker had yet to touch the ball, struggling to get the better of Gerard McGovern.
But McManus was to be the key to the Farney revival which saw them overturn the deficit.
He kicked five frees, a couple of them generous awards by Cork referee Conor Lane, to send Monaghan in with a three points interval lead.
Another Maginn special brought the sides level for the fourth time in the 28th minute, but the home side scored the final three points of the half to lead by 0-9 to 0-6 at the turnover.
Rory Beggan’s ability to vary his kick-outs gave Monaghan their first point of the second half, a huge punt deep into opposition territory setting up Ryan McAnespie for a score.
Down lost midfielder Peter Turley to a black card for a challenge on Darren Hughes, and this game belonged totally to Monaghan at this stage.
McManus curled over his first point from play, and Karl O’Connell added another soon afterwards.
Darren Hughes sent debutant Conor McCarthy in to put six points between the sides, and goalkeeper Beggan thumped a couple of long range frees between the posts.
In the 57th minute, Kieran Hughes collected a diagonal ball from the highly impressive Karl O’Connell to fire a bullet-like shot past Stephen Kane.
Down’s challenge was in tatters, and while they pulled back a couple of scores through O’Hare and Paul Devlin, there was to be a further setback when another surging run from Darren Hughes sent substitute Owen Duffy in for a clinical finish to the net.
Down were on the floor, and relentless Monaghan showed no mercy, feeling off another string of points, with veteran substitute Dick Clerkin becoming the eleventh Farney player to get his name on the score-sheet in stoppage time.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-3, 2f, 1 ’45), C Walshe, D Wylie, R Wylie, D Mone, V Corey, K O’Connell (0-1), K Duffy, D Hughes, S Carey (0-1), D Malone (0-1), R McAnespie (0-1), C McCarthy (0-2, 1f), K Hughes (1-2), C McManus (0-8, 6f).
Subs: O Duffy (1-0) for McAnespie, F Kelly for Mone, P Finlay for K Hughes, D McKenna (0-2) for McCarthy, D Clerkin (0-1) for Corey, T Kerr for Carey
Down: S Kane, G Collins, G McGovern, D O’Hagan, D McKibbin, A Carr, D O’Hanlon (0-2, 2f), P Turley, K McKernan, C Maginn (0-2), M Poland (0-1), J Murphy, C McGovern, C Harrison, B O’Hagan (0-1).
Subs: D O’Hare (0-2, 1f) for B O’Hagan, H Brown for Turley (BC), P Devlin (0-1, f) for Murphy, J Flynn for McKibbin, R Mallon for Maginn
Referee: C Lane (Cork).