Before 4,680 brave patrons in freezing conditions, Monaghan took control in the opening minutes of the second-half, increasing their lead from one point to six, a margin they maintained to the final whistle.
The Monaghan faithful (and Conor McManus) briefly thought that Dublin had lost to Galway, and were harbouring hopes of a league final spot, but news came through of the draw in Pearse Stadium, shattering that hope.
The win means that Monaghan’s top-flight status is secured and McManus said he was happy to stay in Division One. “We will go to Croke Park next week and try and put on a performance. We have a lot to work on. It is good to win games, but we are aware that Donegal were understrength today,” said McManus. Already short Patrick McBrearty, Donegal manager, Declan Bonner, revealed that his panel had been hit by a virus. Ryan McHugh, Odhran Mac Niallais, and Martin McElhinney were unable to play.
The Donegal boss had watched his side come from five points down, after 26 minutes, to lead by one close to half-time. Jamie Brennan hauled Donegal back into the game, sneaking in along the end line to fire to the roof of Rory Beggan’s net, in the 28th minute. The Bundoran man added a point immediately afterward, but two frees, from young David Garland, had Monaghan just ahead at the break, 0-9 to 1-5.
Donegal looked to be in a good position, as they turned to have the wind in their backs, but two half-time Monaghan substitutions, by Malachy O’Rourke, proved pivotal. Ryan Wylie had the ball in the Donegal net within 45 seconds of the restart and Dessie Mone also scored for the winners.
Six points ahead, Monaghan never looked in trouble. Donegal twice got the deficit back to four. Rory Beggan came forward to add a magnificent effort, from 50 yards, into the breeze, to add to the two he stroked over in the first-half.
“We had opportunities, even when we five or six down. We kicked five wides on the trot, which was disappointing,” said Donegal manager, Bonner.
“There was a virus within the camp, which left a lot of boys out,” said Bonner, who ruled out a quick return for Patrick McBrearty, for Sunday’s showdown with Mayo. “There is no long-term problem with Patrick (McBrearty). We are hoping to get him back on the pitch soon, but next Sunday will be too early. It’s a winner-takes-all next Sunday, in Ballybofey, but we need to improve. We have up to seven or eight players out, at the moment,” said Bonner. “It’s a home match for us, in Ballybofey. It’s there for us to win, and that’s the bottom line.”
Monaghan have defeated both their Ulster championship rivals, Tyrone and Donegal, and their focus will now be on their first-round meeting with Tyrone, on Sunday, May 20, in Omagh.
“We had a good league last year, but then had a poor championship. That’s the challenge for us, now, getting our heads down over the next six or seven weeks and looking forward to the championship against Tyrone,” said McManus.
R Beggan (0-3,3f); C Walshe, C Boyle, K Duffy; B Kerr, D Wylie, K O’Connell (0-1); K Hughes (0-1), N Kearns; D Ward, D Malone (0-1), R McAnespie; D Hughes, D Garland (0-3,3f), C McManus (0-5,2f).
R Wylie (1-0) for Walshe; D Mone (0-1) for Kerr, both ht; C McCarthy (0-1) for Garland; O Duffy for Malone, both 51; P McKenna for D Ward 63; A Lynch for Kearns 72.
S Patton; P McGrath, C Ward, C Morrison; E Doherty, F McGlynn, E Ban Gallagher (0-1); M Murphy (0-5,5f), H McFadden; C McGinley, L McLoone, S McBrearty; N O’Donnell (0-1), M Langan, J Brennan (1-2).
M O’Reilly for C McGinley 39; N Mullins for McLoone 42; C Thompson (0-1) for S McBrearty 48; D O’Connor for Langan 57; C McGonagle for C Ward 64; T McClenaghan for McGlynn 71.
S Hurson (Tyrone)