Newbridge or nowhere? That’s how it’s shaping up again for Kildare only this time they’ll have nowhere left to turn in the championship if they don’t beat Galway in Newbridge next weekend.
That’s the intimidating scenario for Cian O’Neill’s Lilywhites who locked with Monaghan at Croke Park but ultimately came off the worse in a tense arm-wrestle.
Mind you, do they really want to get back to Croke Park in late summer for an All- Ireland semi-final after all the hardship they’ve endured there?
It’s 11 losses now in 12 league and championship games at the venue for Kildare and while O’Neill made light of that statistic afterwards, the empty feeling of defeat was all too familiar.
The thing was, victory was there for either team to grab hold of with five minutes to go when they were on level terms for the third time in the second half.
Crucially, it was Monaghan that showed the necessary guile and quality to get the job done, outscoring last season’s Leinster finalists by 0-3 to 0-1.
Vinny Corey nailed the first of those points from distance, then Conor McManus cut in from the left and split the posts from an acute angle before goalkeeper Rory Beggan drilled a long-range free.
The result, allied to Kerry’s defeat, sets up an absorbing encounter next Sunday in Clones when Monaghan and the Munster champions will face off.
Monaghan have a decent league record against the Kingdom, beating them as recently as February, and another win would push them through to a first All-Ireland semi-final in 30 years.
That would be no more than the tiny county of just over 60,000 deserves after drawing the short straw in each of their previous four quarter-finals under O’Rourke.
Twice they’ve played Tyrone, in 2013 and 2015, who had a point to prove on both occasions after missing out on the Ulster title, and twice they played Dublin, in 2014 and 2017, losing the lot.
Monaghan’s only other quarter-final was in 2007 when they ran Kerry to a point. The following year, Kerry beat Monaghan by just three points in a qualifier. Malachy O’Rourke will remind his players of all those near-misses against Kerry as he builds up to next Sunday’s glamour game.
No player deserves more than McManus to play in a semi-final having lit up so many championship Sundays over the last decade.
He was the top scorer for Monaghan in each of those four quarter-final defeats under O’Rourke.
He set the scoring standard again yesterday — three of his four points came from play, including that crucial late score when he skipped away from David Hyland and bisected the posts from a tight angle on the left.
On paper, there was little or nothing between the two teams — Kildare actually had 51% possession — with both sides bouncing back from surprise provincial defeats to enjoy strong qualifier form.
But Monaghan possessed that vital know-how and precious guile to complete the job when it came down to the wire.
Ultimately it was no surprise that the three players who stepped up and hit those late points — Corey, McManus, and Beggan — are ultra-experienced performers who backboned the county’s two Ulster title wins.
Kildare had their chances throughout the game but couldn’t grasp them like Monaghan did late on. Neil Flynn and Tommy Moolick both found themselves in positions to score in the closing minutes but couldn’t convert.
“We missed a couple of chances that could have gotten us a bit closer,” shrugged Kildare manager O’Neill. “It was just a difficult match and they’re a difficult team to play against, a team that people were lauding after their Division 1 campaign. So there’s no shame in going out and losing by two points. We’re just disappointed that our standard didn’t reach previous weeks.”
Kildare got the better start thanks to a stunning sixth-minute goal from Daniel Flynn when he powered through the centre, ignored Keith Cribbin’s pleas for an offload, and slammed the ball to the net.
It put Kildare 1-1 to 0-2 clear but instead of driving on and increasing their advantage they conceded three points in a row and never led in the game again.
Karl O’Connell had a terrific game for Monaghan and fired three points, two of which came in the first half, to nudge them 0-10 to 1-5 up at half-time.
Shane Carey struck a goal chance just over too while Conor McCarthy boomed one over from long range.
Along with McManus, Monaghan will need Carey and McCarthy firing if they’re to overcome Kerry.
Neither of the talented young forwards scored in the second half and the team registered just two points between the 31st and 57th minutes.
Kildare took advantage, to a degree, fighting back to level terms on three occasions, but they couldn’t push on to actually lead.
With the clock ticking down towards a stalemate, it was Monaghan that went to the coalface and mined out those three gems of scores to get the job done.
Scorers for Monaghan: C McManus (0-4, 0-1f); K O’Connell (0-3); C McCarthy and R Beggan (1 45, 1 free) (0-2 each); S Carey, N Kearns, K Duffy and V Corey (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kildare: N Flynn (0-4, 2 frees); D Flynn (1-1); K Feely (0-1, 1 free), T Moolick, F Conway, J Byrne and E Callaghan (0-1 each).
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; R Wylie, D Wylie (C), K Duffy; F Kelly, V Corey, D Mone; N Kearns, D Hughes; R McAnespie, S Carey, K O’Connell; C McCarthy, C McManus, O Duffy.
Subs: P McKenna for Duffy, black card (17), J McCarron for Kelly (48), K Hughes for McKenna (60), D Malone for Carey (66).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; M O’Grady, D Hyland, P Kelly; J. Byrne, E Doyle (C), K Flynn; K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, P Cribbin, K Cribbin; P Brophy, D Flynn, N Flynn.
Subs: N Kelly for P Cribbin (46), C Healy for Brophy (50), D Slattery for K Cribbin (58), E Callaghan for Moolick (69), C McNally for N Flynn (71).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)