Monaghan brought the Carlow odyssey to an end, but only after a mighty scare at Netwatch Cullen Park, where the Ulster men finished strongly for a flattering five points Qualifier win, writes Francis Mooney
The Barrowsiders led with just over ten minutes to play, and their loyal followers in the crowd of 6,124 dared to dream that a massive championship shock could be on the cards.
The Division Four minnows tormented their Division One opponents, bettered them for long spells, but finally ran out of steam as Monaghan’s superior experience and strength in depth kicked in.
But manager Turlough O’Brien can be proud of his heroic charges, who had already made history with their greatest championship run in more than 70 years.
Gary Kelly’s second half goal planted hope in the hearts of the Carlow faithful as they watched their side go two points clear, but defender Fintan Kelly palmed home a kipper goal on 66 minutes to swing the game the other way as the Farney finished strong.
Paul Broderick curled over an early free to inspire the home side, but Monaghan were ahead by the ninth minute, after Kieran Hughes swept over an excellent point to add to a Conor McManus free.
The Farney men injected tenacity and intensity into their game to swarm around their opponents and force turnovers, but when on the back foot, they were struggling to cope with the strong running of Sean Murphy.
The wind-assisted Ulster men did have their chances, and a couple of uncharacteristic misses from Jack McCarron contributed to a disappointing tally of six wides in the opening quarter.
Broderick had the sides level by the 19th minute, but the Carlow defence had to be alert to avert a goal, with Gary Kelly getting in the vital challenge.
McManus stroked a delightful score, but the sides were level again when Brendan Murphy rounded off a brilliant counter-attacking move.
But despite the discipline of their defending, the home side went two down late on, McManus and Kieran Hughes on target.
Monaghan led by 0-5 to 0-3 at the break, but had to start the second half without key ball-winner Darren Hughes, black-carded in stoppage time for dissent.
Broderick and Brendan Murphy found the target to bring the sides level, and in the 49th minute, Kelly smashed the ball to the roof of the net when the Monaghan defence failed to clear Darragh Foley’s free.
But Conor McCarthy came off the bench to add a mush-need spark to a flat Monaghan attack, hitting two points, one from play, and a long range free from Rory Beggan had the sides level as the clock ticked through the hour.
Carlow legs were flagging, and Monaghan, despite playing into the wind, had the know-how, along with the fresh limbs of Ryan McAnespie and the experience of Vinny Corey off the bench.
Fintan Kelly crossed for Malone to punch to the net at the far post, and survival was in sight for Malachy O’Rourke’s side.
There was no way back for Carlow as Hughes and Malone fired over late points, but the Barrow is bursting its banks with pride.
Carlow: R Molloy; C Lawlor, M Rennick; D Moran, D St Ledger, G Kelly (1-0); S Murphy, E Ruth; B Murphy (0-2), D Foley, S Gannon; P Broderick (0-5, 5f), C Moran, J Murphy.
Subs: S Clarke for Moran (62), C Nolan for Kelly (62)
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, f); F Kelly (1-0), D Wylie, R Wylie; N McAdam, C Walshe, K O'Connell; K Hughes (0-3), D Hughes; G Doogan, D Malone (0-1), S Carey (0-1); O Duffy, J McCarron, Conor McManus (0-3, 2f).
Subs: D Mone for D Hughes (BC 35 +1), C McCarthy (0-2, 1f) for McCarron (44), R McAnespie (0-1) for O Duffy (52), V Corey for McAdam (57), D Ward for Carey (69)
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).