Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13
Dynamic Down came from nine points behind to post a stunning win at the Athletic Grounds and qualify for their first Ulster final since 2003.
James McCartan’s men looked down and out when they trailed a dominant Farney side by nine points at one stage, but they turned a terrific contest in their favour with an exceptional display of heart, guts and determination.
Aidan Carr gave them a lifeline with a goal from a penalty late in the first half, and it was wing back Darren O’Hagan who popped up to punch over the winning point deep into stoppage time.
That score, incredibly, gave them the lead for the first time, but it was enough to set up a Clones title showdown with either Tyrone or defending champions Donegal.
Owen Lennon and Dick Clerkin established a foothold in midfield, and front men Paul Finlay and Conor McManus laid on an exhibition of finishing as Monaghan took the game confidently to the favourites.
The pair hit a combined total of nine points in the first half alone, and the Mourne defence struggled to contain a fast-moving attacking unit.
Down did craft a goal chance, but Owen Lennon intercepted superbly as Eoin McCartan tried to release Donal O’Hare.
However, it was the Farney men who kept th tempo going, and a superb score from Conor McManus restored their three-point advantage.
When McManus and Finlay steered over frees, they led by 0-6 to 0-1 midway through the first half.
O’Hare pulled back a point from a free, and Down had a goal chance when Rogers burst forward, but he was denied by a brilliant Mark Keogh save.
McManus brought his tally to five with two converted frees, Finlay stroked over his fourth, and Dick Clerkin opened out a nine-point advantage.
Down did pull back a goal in stoppage time, when Aidan Carr slotted home a penalty after Vinnie Coey had fouled Conor Laverty.
It was Monaghan who held a commanding 0-11 to 1-2 lead at the break, but the Mourne men, with Kalum King and Ambrose Rogers lifting their game at midfield, narrowed the gap back to three points within 10 minutes of the restart with scores from Donal O’Hare and substitute Kevin Duffin.
And when a superb take by full back Brendan McArdle launched a flowing move, Conor Laverty applied the finishing touch with a delightful point.
Monaghan struggled to get any attacking movement going, but they did craft a goal chance when McManus released James Turley, but goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh rose to the occasion with a superb save.
Monaghan countered for Tommy Freeman, just onto the field as a substitute, to collect a quickly taken free from McManus, to blast home a 57th minute goal
Down refused to panic, and persisted with their measured approach, and after O’Hare had converted two more frees, Benny Coulter came off the bench to hit a crucial score.
Liam Doyle brought the sides level from a free, and when Aidan Carr’s delivery fell to O’Hagan in stoppage time, he calmly punched the ball over the bar for a glorious stoppage-time winner.
Down scorers: A Carr 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), D O’Hare 0-5 (5f), C Laverty 0-2, K Duffin, L Doyle (f), B Coulter, D O’Hagan, A Rogers (f) 0-1 each.
Monaghan scorers: T Freeman 1-0, C McManus (3f), P Finlay (3f) 0-5 each, D Hughes 0-2 (1f, 1 ’45), D Clerkin 0-1.
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, B McArdle, G McCartan, D O’Hagan, K McKernan, C Garvey, A Rogers, K King, D Hughes, M Poland, A Carr, D O’Hare, C Laverty, E McCartan.
Subs: K Duffin for D McCartan, L Doyle for Duffin, B Coulter for O’Hare
Monaghan: M Keogh, D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe, D Hughes, D Mone, K O’Connell, O Lennon, D Clerkin, P Dooney, S Gollogly, J Turley, K Hughes, P Finlay, C McManus.
Subs: T Freeman for Dooney, K Duffy for K Hughes
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).