Watched by an attendance of 6,124 in perfect weather conditions, Monaghan struggled for an hour against their Division 4 opponents – opponents fuelled by wonderful home support which provided them with a 16th man element.
With the game having swung to and fro for an hour, the experience of playing at the highest level eventually told for the men from Kavanagh country and, in a dominant final 10 minutes, they put the game to bed, the crucial score being a 65th-minute goal from right-corner-back Fintan Kelly.
The visitors benefitted from the strength of their bench in the second half, the introduction of Conor McCarthy being particularly fruitful, while Ryan McAnespie chipped in with the lead point at a vital stage to put his side 0-10 to 1-6 ahead.
The narrow exit left Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien bitterly disappointed: “We wanted to win the game – we don’t need moral victories. Any team that prepares properly can compete, instead of throwing in the towel before the championship begins.”
This game, though, was very much about Carlow as O’Brien’s men exceeded all expectations.
In a frantic first half of only eight points, five to Monaghan, Carlow could so easily have gone in ahead had Seán Gannon’s close-range shot gone the right side of the post.
Monaghan were wasteful in attack in that opening half, kicking eight wides to which they added six after the change of ends. They were forced to shoot from long distance much of the time as Carlow defended in depth and while the forward line had left their shooting boots at home, midfielder Kieran Hughes was very much on form. He was on the ball more than any other Monaghan player and shot three fine, and crucial, points. There were flashes of brilliance from marquee forward Conor McManus - the Clontibret clubman scored 0-3, 0-2 from frees - but he was overshadowed by the brilliant freetaking of Carlow’s Paul Broderick, who hit 0-5 from frees, his first point of the second half from 55 metres close to the sideline providing a huge boost to his side.
Darren Hughes was black-carded in first half injury-time, apparently for something he said to a linesman, and after a brace of Carlow points had levelled matters early in the second half, Shane Carey edged the visitors ahead with a point from play.
On 49 minutes, the venue erupted when Gary Kelly, availed of slack Monaghan defence in dealing with a 45-metre free, to crash home a great goal. Carlow led 1-5 to 0-6.
Monaghan substitute Cathal McCarthy pointed before the impeccable Paul Broderick arrowed another Carlow free between the posts.
But as the pace of the game caught up with O’Brien’s men, Monaghan began to monopolise possession and points from McCarthy, Rory Beggan (free) and substitute Ryan McAnespie put them in front. Then came Kelly’s goal, made by the forceful run of Dermot Malone which pierced the left flank of Carlow’s defence.
Relieved Monaghan team boss Malachy O’Rourke admitted his side had much to work on, but added: “We knew we would get nothing soft here.”
C McManus (0-3, 2 frees); F Kelly (1-0); C McCarthy (0-2, 1 free); R Beggan (free), D Malone, S Carey, R McAnespie (0-1 each).
P Broderick (0-5, all frees); G Kelly (1-0); B Murphy (0-2).
R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Hughes, C Walshe, K O’Connell; K Hughes, N McAdam; G Doogan, D Malone, Shane Carey; O Duffy, J McCarron, C McManus
D Mone for D Hughes (black card )(36); C McCarthy for McCarron (44); R McAnespie for Duffy (52); V Corey for McAdam (57); D Ward for Carey (69); K Duffy for Doogan (73).
R Molloy; C Lawlor, S Redmond, M Rennick; D Moran, D St Ledger, G Kelly; S Murphy, E Ruth; B Murphy, D Foley, S Gannon; P Broderick, C Moran, J Murphy.
S Clarke for Moran (62); K Nolan for Kelly (62).
C Reilly (Louth).