Monaghan 0-13 Donegal 0-07
Mighty Monaghan scored a sensational victory over the All-Ireland champions Donegal to bridge a 25-year gap, winning a first Ulster SFC title since 1988 with a heroic performance at Clones.
The treble-chasing provincial title-holders were out-played at their own game by a Farney side bursting with energy, passion and desire, and above all, a willingness to execute, to the letter, the plan contrived by manager Malachy O’Rourke.
This was a high energy project, built on packing a defence with marauding bodies swarming all over their opponents as they executed tackles and turnovers, while breaking at blinding pace to pick off the scores that were to make this a glorious occasion for the long-suffering Farney fans.
Donegal just ran out of ideas. The plan they developed and perfected had come back to bite them, and Jim McGuinness will have to urgently re-visit the drawing board as he seeks a way to tweak the system ahead of his first foray into the Qualifiers in his third season in charge.
Monaghan flew out of the blocks, and within seven minutes they were four points ahead.
Darren Hughes rifled over their opener after just 40 seconds, and goalkeeper Rory Beggan sent a 45 metre free floating over the bar.
Conor McManus converted a 13 metre free, and Padraig Donaghy added a further point from distance to send the home following wild with delight.
And Donegal’s effort to play their way into the game suffered a further blow when they lost Mark McHugh when he shipped a heavy knock in a collision with Stephen Gollogly.
Monaghan were playing a high energy game, filtering bodies back to shore up their defence and breaking at pace to impose themselves on the game.
And they extended their lead to five when McManus knocked over a free in the 29th minute.
Donegal boss Jim McGuinness took a risk, springing the injured Neil Gallagher from the bench, and he helped break the grip that Darren Hughes and Owen Lennon had exerted on the midfield battle.
Donegal registered their first point of the game in the 32nd minute, a Colm McFadden free, and they cut the deficit further when Frank McGlynn finished off a counter-attacking move with a point.
Monaghan led by 0-5 to 0-2 at the interval, and full forward Kieran Hughes made a massive contribution with three points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, giving marker Eamonn McGee a day he will want to forget.
Donegal skipper Michael Murphy was never able to escape the clutches of Vinny Corey, and there was no sign of a dip in the remarkable level of commitment delivered by this group of driven Farney flyers.
Donegal’s defensive system had already shown signs of weakness, but once they began to commit extra men to the attack through sheer desperation, they were decidedly vulnerable at the back.
And when Monaghan wing back Dessie Mone burst through a series of tackles to fire over a point to make it a five point game, Monaghan knew they had the measure of the hot pre-match favourites.
McFadden pulled back a couple of points from frees and Rory Kavanagh drilled a shot between the posts, but as they committed extra men forward, Donegal became more vulnerable to the counter-attack, and were duly punished.
Monaghan spotted the openings, and late scores from substitutes Christopher McGuinness and Tommy Freeman, along with goalkeeper Beggan’s ’45, saw them complete the job in advance of a manic pitch invasion.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45), K Duffy, D Wylie, C Walshe, V Corey, N McAdam, D Mone (0-1), O Lennon, D Hughes (0-1), P Finlay, S Gollogly, D Malone, P Donaghy (0-1), K Hughes (0-3), C McManus (0-3, 3f).
Subs: G Doogan for Gollogly, D Clerkin for Doogan, C McGuinness (0-1) for Malone, T Freeman (0-1) for McManus
Donegal: P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee, F McGlynn (0-1), K Lacey, A Thompson, R Kavanagh (0-1), R Bradley, M O’Reilly, L McLoone, M McHugh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden (0-4, 4f).
Subs: David Walsh for McHugh, N Gallagher for O’Reilly, R Wherity for McLoone, R McHugh (0-1) for Walsh, M McElhinney for Bradley
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).