Down 1-14 Monaghan 0-15
Down have emerged from the depths of despair to challenge once again for Ulster football glory.
A team that not so long ago went almost two years without a win in league or championship announced its return in emphatic fashion with a stunning win over hot favourites Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds.
The Mourne men shocked the Farney side to reach a first provincial final since 2012, and they did so with typical Down style, peppered with generous portions of passion and heroism.
Monaghan fought back from seven points behind to reduce it to a single point in the closing stages, but Down’s warriors held on to book a meeting with Tyrone in next month’s decider.
Darragh O’Hanlon fired in the crucial goal from a penalty, and added five points from frees in a massive contribution.
Monaghan pressed strongly in the opening stages, but key finishers Conor McManus and Jack McCarron were wayward in their shooting, and as Down raided on the breakaway, Peter Turley almost sent Ryan Johnston in for a goal, but Karl O’Connell stepped in to make a vital intercept.
That was the warning that the Farney men needed, for they were to find themselves on the back foot in the face of fast and furious Mourne attacks throughout the opening half.
McCarron edged Monaghan ahead, and there were scores from McManus and Darren Hughes, with Darragh O’Hanlon keeping Down in touch from frees.
Both sides pushed up on the opposition kick-out, and it was Monaghan midfielder Kieran Hughes who was the main beneficiary, taking a string of marks to keep his side on the attack.
McCarthy had just nudged Monaghan back in front when their opponents stepped up the temp to hit five points in a row.
With Caolan Mooney using his pace to raid through the middle and Conor Maginn and Kevin McKernan prompting from deep, they confidently took on the farney.7
Spectacular points from Connaire Harrison, McKernan and McGinn had them four points ahead, and it could have been more, but for some stoic defending from Ryan Wylie.
But Monaghan finished the half strongly, with scores from McCarthy and McManus, to narrow the gap to two.
Down took a 0-10 to 0-8 lead into the break, and almost had a goal when Harrison had a shot scramble away for a ’45, which goalkeeper Michael Cunningham converted.
McKernan launched another huge effort for a four points advantage, and when Niall Donnelly was pulled back by Colin Walshe, referee Paddy Neilan, who had replaced the injured David Coldrick at half-time, awarded a penalty.
O’Hanlon stepped up to fire home the kick, and suddenly there were seven points separating the sides.
Monaghan closed up shop at the back and threw everything into attack, crafting the scores that brought them back into contention.
McManus knocked over three frees, and there were scores from Darren Hughes and McCarron as they narrowed the gap to a single point through Kieran Hughes.
Down retreated in numbers, with all 15 players inside their own ’45, and did enough to hold on.
But just when it looked as if Monaghan were about to nail the leveller, they lost possession, and the Mourne men broke from deep to hit the insurance point through substitute Donal O’Hare.
Down: M Cunningham (0-1, ’45); N McParland, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon (1-5, 1-0 pen, 0-5f), C McGovern, C Mooney; K McKernan (0-2), N Donnelly; P Turley, C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston, C Harrison (0-3), R Johnston.
Subs: D O’Hare (0-1) for Harrison (52), J Murphy for C McGovern (58), D McKibbin for Mooney (65), A Carr for Turley (67), M Poland for R Johnston (67)
Monaghan: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie (0-1); C Walshe, V Corey, N McAdam; K Hughes (0-1), D Hughes (0-2); K O'Connell, K Duffy, O Duffy (0-1); C McCarthy (0-1), J McCarron (0-3, 2f), C McManus (0-6, 3f).
Subs; R McAnespie for McAdam (40), D Mone for K Duffy (46), D Ward for O Duffy (46), D Malone for McCarthy (56)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath). Replaced by Paddy Neilan (Roscommon) at half-time.