Monaghan 1-18 Armagh 1-13
Conor McManus returned to his brilliant best to shoot down Armagh in the Ulster SFC semi-final replay at Clones today.
Monaghan’s All-Star attacker, whose season was in doubt just a few weeks ago as he struggled with knee and ankle injuries, shot 1-6 to set up a repeat of last year’s provincial decider against Donegal.
The Orchard men chased the game for most of the afternoon in front of a crowd of 23,324, and in the end can have no complaints over a five points defeat which sees them take on Tyrone in next weekend’s Qualifier tie.
Darren Hughes fired over a couple of long range points early on to get Monaghan off to a positive start, but they were knocked back by an Armagh goal in the 12th minute.
Aidan Forker picked up possession inside his own half, and after combining with Jamie Clarke and Tony Kernan, he rifled a shot against the crossbar, but midfielder Aaron Findon followed up to finish to the net from close range.
The Farney men quickly regained their composure and shape and shot the next five points to stamp their authority on the contest.
Paul Finlay, a late addition to their starting line-up, slotted over a free, and McManus hit the target from play and a placed ball.
Goalkeeper Rory Beggan once again displayed his ground-kicking expertise with a conversion from 50 metres, and the provincial champions were 0-7 to 1-1 ahead by the 28th minute.
A well organised defensive effort, with Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe and Dessie Mone playing effective roles, squeezed out Clarke and his attacking colleagues, and they were living off crumbs.
Tony Kernan did pop over a couple of frees, but in the 32nd minute, the Orchard men were caught out at the back when McManus got in behind marker James Morgan to collect Kieran Hughes’ delivery and smash the ball to the roof of the net.
Monaghan went in with a 1-8 to 1-4 lead at the break, and stretched the advantage with scores from Stephen Gollogly, Beggan, from a 53-metre free, and Dermot Malone.
Armagh hit back through Kernan and Clarke, but the Farney men build patiently, moving the ball laterally until the opening appeared for Finlay and McManus to pick up possession in the scoring zone and do what they do best.
When McManus fired over his sixth point in the 60th minute, the Anglo-Celt Cup holders led by seven, and any prospects of another Armagh comeback appeared remote.
But Clarke began to find more space in a more advanced position, and showcased his quality with a handful of quality scores.
Armagh suffered a blow in the 63rd minute when they were reduced to 14 men, after Stefan Campbell was black-carded. They were unable to replace the wing forward as they had used all six permitted subs.
It was show-time in the closing stages as McManus delighted the home fans with another delightful score from a sideline ball.
Armagh did battle to the end with scores from Kernan and Clarke, but they were a well beaten side on the day, out-played by a well drilled Monaghan outfit who forward to meet Donegal in a repeat of last year’s provincial decider, while Armagh head to Healy Park to face Tyrone.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 2f), R Wylie, D Wylie, C Walshe, D Mone, V Corey, F Kelly, D Clerkin (0-1), D Hughes (0-2), P Finlay (0-4, 1f), S Gollogly (0-1), P McKenna, D Malone (0-1), K Hughes, C McManus (1-7, 0-4f).
Subs: K O’Connell for K Hughes, G Doogan for Clerkin
Armagh: P McEvoy, J Morgan, C Vernon, F Moriarty, M Shields, B Donaghy, C McKeever, K Toner, A Findon (1-0), E McVerry (0-1), K Dyas, S Campbell, A Forker, T Kernan (0-7, 6f), J Clarke (0-5, 1f).
Subs: A Mallon for Moriarty (BC), K Carragher for McVerry, S Harold for Toner, M Murray for Morgan, A Kernan for Donaghy, R Grugan for Forker
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).