The northern province’s reputation as the brand leader in absorbing, high-intensity senior football matches took another bashing in Clones as Monaghan produced a power surge second-half to inflict a record 19-point championship defeat on Down.
For the fourth week in a row, deflated supporters streamed for the exits long before the second half was clearing its throat.
And while the previous wins for Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan had been by an average of over eight points, yesterday’s landslide has pushed the average winning margin in this year’s Ulster SFC to an incredible 11 points.
While Down made a good fist of things in the opening 20 minutes, this demolition job wasn’t a surprise.
Eamonn Burns’ side hadn’t won an inter-county match all year — their last win was in April 2015 — with a McKenna Cup victory over St Mary’s in January their only success.
To their credit, they brought their ‘A’ game early on before Monaghan warmed to their task, sussed out the Down kick-outs and went for the jugular, scoring 1-8 without reply in a devastating third quarter.
Kieran Hughes’ stylish finish after 57 minutes was game, set and match and Owen Duffy bagged a second goal late on against the crushed opposition who failed to score from play for 38 minutes either side of the interval.
The game was at least a contest in the first half and Down must have been wondering how they were behind 0-9 to 0-6 at the break.
A combination of poor shooting, they hit eight first-half wides, and some controversial refereeing decisions cost them dearly.
Yet as good as Down were for the first 20 minutes or so, their performance levels nosedived alarmingly with Monaghan surging clear and growing stronger as the game wore on. Though Kieran Hughes was a livewire and kicked the first of two early points inside the opening minute, most of his Monaghan team-mates looked lethargic. Points from debutant Barry O’Hagan and Conor Maginn plus two long-range frees from Darragh O’Hanlon had Down 0-4 to 0-2 ahead after 15 minutes.
Their kick-outs to the wings were working and their energy and effort was impressive, but it all changed once Monaghan pushed up on Down’s restarts.
Suddenly they were contesting everything, Darren Hughes doing a superb job of breaking ball in midfield and launching counter-attacks.
Conor McManus tapped over the equalising free before Shane Carey edged them in front. The sides were level five times in the first half, but Monaghan had a good spell before the break, kicking the last three scores, to give them a three-point interval lead.
Referee Conor Lane was booed off at half-time by the Down fans after gifting Monaghan three frees for soft fouls on Kieran and Darren Hughes and Conor McCarthy. All three were converted.
But there was no disputing what was to follow as Monaghan shook off their first-half malaise to surge clear.
Huge gaps started to appear in the Down defence with Monaghan picking off scores at will.
For a team often criticised for being too reliant on All Star forward Conor McManus, Monaghan managed a good spread of scores with 11 different players on the scoresheet.
Kieran Hughes’ brilliant finish killed the game once and for all.
Leading by 0-16 to 0-7, a long ball by Karl O’Connell which was bound for McManus ended up in Hughes’ hands. He pivoted before drilling the ball low into the far corner of the net in a spectacular finish after 57 minutes.
Duffy’s 66th minute tap-in put the gloss on a comfortable day for Monaghan and made it 10 out of 10 for Down, a 10th inter-county defeat in 10 games this year.
C McManus (0-8, six frees), K Hughes (1-2), O Duffy (1-0), R Beggan (0-3, two frees, 1 45) C McCarthy (0-2), (1f), D McKenna (0-2), S Carey, D Malone, R McAnespie, K O’Connell, D Clerkin (0-1 each).
C Maginn (0-2), D O’Hare (0-2, 1f), D O’Hanlon (0-2, two frees), B O’Hagan, M Poland (0-1 each), P Devlin (1 free).
R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, C Walshe, V Corey; K O’Connell, D Hughes; S Carey, D Malone, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, K Hughes, C McManus.
O Duffy for McAnespie (50), F Kelly for Mone (53), P Finlay for K Hughes (58), D McKenna for McCarthy (59), D Clerkin for Corey (63), T Kerr for Carey (65).
S Kane; G Collins, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D McKibbin, A Carr, D O’Hanlon; P Turley, K McKernan; C Maginn, M Poland, J Murphy; C McGovern, C Harrison, B O’Hagan.
D O’Hare for B O’Hagan (HT), H Brown for Turley (40, BC), P Devlin for Murphy (49), J Flynn for McKibbin (55), D Turley for Collins (61), R Mallon for Maginn (67).
Conor Lane (Cork).