The one time the TV execs decide against picking up the live rights for the big game in Ulster and it turns out to be a classic. A two-fingered salute to all those who have decried the standard and the style of football in the north.
This was an unexpected joy. Like an impromptu session at a funeral. On this evidence, the code in Ulster is a long way from dead and if it stands as an outlier when the Anglo-Celt Cup is raised later this summer, hey, we’ll always have Omagh.
Some will still quibble. Inevitably. You could argue that there were still too many hand-passes, 41 frees, nine yellows and a straight red card for Tyrone’s Peter Harte for catching Ryan Wylie with a fist to the ribs in injury-time.
Our condolences to anyone of that bent.
This was a ripper. It held 15,029 people rapt for well over 80 minutes in the sort of sodden and slightly wild conditions that could easily have been used in mitigation had it disappeared down the sort of path that so many had predicted.
Some of the scoring was sublime, most of that from Monaghan.
Goalkeeper Rory Beggan landed all four of his dead balls from distance, Vinny Corey finished off an intricate move at pace with the game’s only goal in first-half injury-time and even Dessie Mone landed a monster late on from under the main stand.
Repeat: Dessie Mone.
Monaghan were everything we’ve known them to be — they were athletic and organised and committed — but the skills they sprinkled through this contest demonstrated that they are more than just a competent side of regular Joes.
“We don’t really pass much remarks on what outsiders say,” said a noticeably measured Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke. “We know the work we’re doing, we know we’re trying to improve all time.
“We feel we have a lot of quality and strong panel men. The attitude of the boys is great and there’s a really great spirit there. But all it was enough to get us through today. It won’t be good enough the next day if we don’t bring it again.”
O’Rourke was keen to point out that this was merely a provincial quarter-final in May. And that Monaghan have been ousted from Ulster at the semi-final stage this last two years. All true, but this is a win worthy of praise.
There will be no three-in-a-row for Mickey Harte’s men after this: a first defeat suffered by Tyrone in the Ulster Championship since Donegal had their number in Ballybofey all of three years ago.
Injuries didn’t help them.
Tiernan McCann, Colm Cavanagh and Lee Brennan all started after recent injury issues and all three were subbed long before the finish. Harte all but admitted afterwards that the selections had amounted to failed gambles.
Add in the unfortunate loss of forward Mark Bradley to an ankle injury after just 11 minutes and the Tyrone manager was badly hamstrung by misfortune. What may rankle most is the fact that they started so well.
Tyrone’s style had been analysed to death prior to this game. Would they persist with the hand-passing and one full-forward, or use longer diagonal kicks and three up front? The answer is that they went one way and then the other.
Games are rarely as black and white as the narratives that surround them and, though Monaghan will enjoy most of the kudos, the fact is that this one went down to the wire with both enjoying periods of supremacy.
Tyrone opened up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead inside 10 minutes before being held scoreless for the next 22. With the wind at their backs, they knew they had work to do when Corey claimed the goal that left them taking the interval two points adrift.
Monaghan won it in the last five minutes of normal time.
Tyrone had spent the previous 30 minutes trying to gain parity but when they did it was the visitors who surged ahead again by landing the next five points in a devastating five-minute spell that made Michael McKernan’s last-gasp goal all but academic.
In a test of bottle, Monaghan didn’t break. “Look, a lot of championship matches are like that,” said O’Rourke. “Coming here to Tyrone, they won the last two Ulster Championships and they won last year’s one fairly handy. Look it, we knew we would have to keep our composure.
“We knew that the game would ebb and flow and there would be times where we would be under the cosh. There is a fair bit of experience there, we were prepared and we were able to hold our scores, keep our heads and, luckily enough, finish on top.”
C McAliskey (0-6, 0-3 frees); M McKernan (1-1); L Brennan (0-3 frees); N Sludden (0-2); P Hampsey, P Harte, M Donnelly and C McShane (all 0-1).
C McManus (0-6, 0-4 frees); R Beggan (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-2 ‘45’s); V Corey (1-0); J McCarron (0-2, 0-1 free); C Walshe, D Wylie, F Kelly, C McCarthy, R McAnespie and C Walshe (all 0-1).
N Morgan: R McNamee, C McCarron, P Hampsey; T McCann, F Burns, C Meyler; C Cavanagh, C McShane; P Harte, N Sludden, M Donnelly; L Brennan, C McAliskey, M Bradley.
R O’Neill for Bradley (20); D McClure for C Cavanagh (HT); M McKernan for McCarron (39); HP McGeary for McCann (52); K McGeary for Brennan (56); C McCann for O’Neill (61).
R Beggan; R Wylie, D Wylie, K Duffy; D Mone, V Corey, K O’Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes; F Kelly, K Hughes, D Ward; R McAnespie, J McCarron, C McManus.
C McCarthy for Ward (41); O Duffy for McCarron (61); C Walshe for Mone (64).
D Coldrick (Meath).