Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10
Monaghan swept to the NFL Division Two title at Croke Park, where they delivered a compelling performance to see off Donegal.
The Farney men repeated last year’s Ulster final result against a Donegal side that had to play almost the entire second half with 14 men following the dismissal of Rory Kavanagh.
All but two points of the Farney total came from frees, many of their scores quality efforts kicked from distance, particularly in the first half.
While their score-taking was of the highest order, and also included a Kieran Hughes goal, Monaghan defended with discipline and solidity, with Fintan Kelly, Dessie Mone and the returning Darren Hughes outstanding.
With a second successive promotion already secured, Monaghan return to Division One with the added bonus of another prestigious piece of silverware that will boost confidence immensely as they prepare to defend their provincial title.
Paddy McBrearty and Colm McFadden shot Donegal into an early lead, but Monaghan could have had a goal, but for Luke Keaney’s excellent block on Kieran Hughes, with goalkeeper Rory Beggan converting the resultant ’45.
The Farney men enjoyed greater rewards when they sought to negate Donegal’s blanket defensive system by shooting from distance.
Darren Hughes, a late addition to the starting line-up, sliced over a couple of gems, one of them only confirmed by Hawk-Eye, to get their challenge going.
Paul Finlay also swung over a couple of long range scores, as did wing back Dessie Mone, who made it 0-7 to 0-3 after 20 minutes.
Donegal responded with a couple of Michael Murphy scores, but Stephen Gollogly and Dermot Malone were still helping Monaghan win the battle for possession around midfield, and Jim McGuinness addressed this particular concern by springing Neil Gallagher and Mark McHugh from the bench after 27 minutes.
Kieran Hughes broke through to smash in a shot that clipped the crossbar on its way over, and Malachy O’Rourke’s men led by five as half-time approached.
Murphy and McFadden pulled back frees to narrow the gap, but Donegal trailed by 0-10 to 0-7 at the break.
Monaghan lost midfielder Owen Lennon to injury in the opening moments of the second half, and saw their lead cut back further when Odhran MacNiallais hit the target.
As tempers flared and a couple of skirmishes interrupted the action, referee David Gough handed out yellow cards to Donegal’s Rory Kavanagh and Neil McGee, and midfielder Kavanagh’s day was brought to an end on 41 minutes by a straight red.
Now Monaghan were able to commit two defenders to curbing the threat posed by McFadden, but Donegal won a penalty when Ryan McHugh won a penalty which saw Colin Walshe dismissed on a black card for the cynical challenge on the Kilcar youngster.
Murphy smashed home the kick to bring the men from the north-west level on 53 minutes.
But Monaghan struck for a goal four minutes later, Kieran Duffy and Dick Clerkin involved in the neat build-up which gave substitute Ryan Wylie an opportunity pick out Kieran Hughes at the far post, the Scotstown man finishing with the fist from close range.
Substitutes Clerkin and Christopher McGuiness tagged on points as the Farney men edged closer to the title
Corner back Fintan Kelly capped a fine performance with a point on the counter-attack, with McManus adding his third from play.
Both sides lost players to black cards late on, with McFadden and Darren Hughes punished for misdemeanours.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, ’45), K Duffy, D Wylie, F Kelly (0-1), D Mone (0-1), V Corey, C Walshe, O Lennon, P Finlay (0-3, 1f)), K Hughes (1-1), S Gollogly, D Hughes (0-2), D Malone, P McKenna (0-2), C McManus (0-3).
Subs: D Clerkin (0-1) for Lennon, R Wylie for Walshe (BC), C McGuinness (0-1) for Gollogly, P Donaghy for Malone, J McCarron for Finlay, K O’Connell for D Hughes (BC)
Donegal: P Durcan, E McGee, N McGee, K Lacey, F McGlynn, L Keaney, A Thompson, R Kavanagh, M MCElhinney, C Toye, R McHugh, O MacNiallais (0-1), C McFadden (0-4, 3f), M Murphy (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-3f), P McBrearty (0-1).
Subs: N Gallagher for McElhinney, M McHugh for Toye, C Classon for MacNiallais, D O’Connor for R McHugh, D Walsh for Keaney, D Molloy for McFadden (BC)
Referee: D Gough (Meath).