On this particular day, against this particular team, Malachy O’Rourke reckoned that finishing with his best attacking unit on the field was the way to go, and that’s ultimately why Monaghan are now preparing for a fourth All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in five years.
DOWN ................ 1-16
Having been stunned by Down in the Ulster semi-final a month earlier, the policy in Saturday’s qualifier rematch in Croke Park seemed to be defend early, attack late.
They didn’t do the first part very well and at the end of a dodgy first half were lucky to be tied at 1-9 apiece against a much more convincing Down side.
However, they did the second part very well, unleashing their firepower, with Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron and Owen Duffy hitting seven points from play off the bench.
Down’s starting forward line scored 1-9 from play.
Monaghan’s only hit two points, yet they still won the match, thanks to their trio of subs.
McCarron hit a stuttering attack’s first point from play as late as the 46th minute while McCarthy led the way with 0-4.
All three players had strong claims on starting jerseys and all three could easily start Saturday’s quarter-final, something O’Rourke will weigh up in the coming days.
“There’s days you put them in from the start, there’s days maybe that when the game opens up a wee bit, they perform better. It’s just looking at each game on its own merits.
“There’s some quality finishers there and getting that impact from the bench was a big boost, but it’s not always going to work like that.
“It’s a matter of looking at whoever we get and seeing what’s the best way to go.
“Putting on the few forwards gave Down more trouble at the back and, as the game opened up, they were able to exploit that. We were better defensively in the second half and going forward opened them up a bit more and came through by a comfortable margin in the end.”
With players working harder out the field to stymie Down’s threat, suddenly there was more room to operate for the Monaghan forwards.
Conor McManus also came to life, finishing with 0-10, including eight from placed balls, but the jury is still out on this Monaghan side. They’ve had a poor championship, yet they are still there. Individually, some players are struggling and collectively they look out of sorts but the manager does not appear to be panicking.
When their backs are to the wall, as they inevitably will be on Saturday, he believes they will dig deep to find a way.
O’Rourke said: “We feel there is more quality there than we’re showing at the minute. Next week is going to be a massive jump, whether it’s Dublin or Tyrone. Either of them will be a step up from what we’ve played so far.
“We haven’t much time to prepare, but we do feel we haven’t hit our peak form yet.”
Down contributed handsomely to an entertaining game and they should have been ahead at the break. Despite the Hughes brothers Darren and Kieran scoring from distance to give Monaghan an early lead, they never looked comfortable and it was Down who settled quickest.
By the 17th minute they led 0-7 to 0-4, with Caolan Mooney and Shay Millar on target as Monaghan hung on; Drew Wylie’s struggles on the excellent Connaire Harrison an example of their troubles.
For the second time this summer, Harrison dominated in the air and bossed the Monaghan fullback. He took three points off Wylie before Malachy O’Rourke took action, moving his younger brother Ryan onto the one-man wrecking ball.
Conor McManus’s frees kept Monaghan in touch, but they still trailed 0-9 to 0-7 when Fintan Kelly, playing as a sweeper, burst through the gap to score a badly needed goal, his third in as many games. Darren Hughes’s pop pass found him in space and, despite having a man outside him, he had the confidence to blast home from close range after 26 minutes.
Their narrow lead only lasted six minutes, before Harrison replied for Down. Kelly flapped at a high ball into the square — a tactic that worked so well for Down — and it broke to Maginn, who fed it out to Harrison.
Monaghan’s bench changed the match. Stung by their omission, McCarron and McCarthy responded the way O’Rourke would have hoped.
They also brought the best out of McManus, who started chipping in with a couple from play. The sides were level at 1-11 each after 45 minutes but in the next 10 minutes, Monaghan outscored Down by six points to one. Down had Monaghan in trouble with the high ball, but only managed to deliver it inside once in the second half, and it almost led to a goal in the 62nd minute. Again, Harrison won it and swivelled, but his shot blazed over when a goal would have cut the deficit to two points.
Relief, then, for Monaghan, with Colin Walshe hailing the influence of their subs. “It’s nip and tuck who Malachy decides to throw in from the start and the boys who came in made a great impact. We hit a good total for Croke Park and something we’ll try to do again next week.”
Scorers for Monaghan:
C McManus 0-10 (8f), F Kelly 1-0, C McCarthy 0-4, K Hughes 0-3 (1f), D Hughes 0-3, J McCarron 0-2, R Wylie 0-1, O Duffy 0-1.
Scorers for Down:
C Harrison 1-4, J Johnston 0-3 (1f), D O’Hanlon 0-2 (2f), K McKernan 0-2, C Maginn 0-2, C Mooney 0-1, S Millar 0-1, D McKibbin 0-1.
R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, F Kelly, K O’Connell; K Hughes, D Hughes; G Doogan, D Malone, S Carey; R McAnespie, D Freeman, C McManus.
J McCarron for Carey (HT), O Duffy for Malone (HT), C McCarthy for Freeman (46), D Ward for Doogan (48),V Corey for Walshe (62), G Doogan for McAnespie (68), D Mone for O’Connell (70).
M Cunningham; N McParland, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon, C McGovern, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, S Millar; S Dornan, C Harrison, R Johnston.
J Johnston for Dornan (48), A Carr for Turley (52), M Poland for Maginn (58), D McKibbin for Millar (58), D O’Hare for Mooney (68), J Murphy for R Johnston (70).
Maurice Deegan (Laois)
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