ULSTER SFC FINAL:
Monaghan 1-9 Donegal 0-15
In the end, it was way easier than expected for Donegal, but the manner of their victory was of no surprise to a supremely confident Jim McGuinness.
The Donegal boss basked in the achievement of winning a third Ulster title in four years, a feat he immediately ranked ahead of their All-Ireland success in 2012, and then revealed he knew at 10am yesterday his team were going to turn the tables on Monaghan.
Twelve months ago, Monaghan took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring the first four points in the opening eight or nine minutes, but yesterday it was Donegal who set the tone early on.
Having clearly targeted a good start, McGuinness’s side scored the first three points of an attritional, bruising final, played in front of 31,912 in St Tiernach’s Park.
Once they got their noses in front, they never looked in any danger of being pegged back. So robust was their defending, with banks of green and gold jerseys in place every time Monaghan players looked up with the ball, it was a three-point lead that felt like about ten.
Even when Christopher McGuinness scored a 49th minute goal for Monaghan to bring them to within a point, 0-10 to 1-6, Donegal’s response was emphatic, scoring the next three points to kill off any brief hopes of a comeback.
Monaghan, defending a 16-game unbeaten run in Clones stretching back to 2011, came into the game as marginal favourites, having beaten Donegal in last year’s provincial decider and in the Allianz league division two final three months ago.
It was a tag they probably didn’t want and struggled to live up to with so many of their key men below-par. The long ball in to Kieran Hughes in the first-half didn’t work and Conor McManus, well shackled by Neil McGee, was living off scraps.
The fact that the Monaghan captain did not score until injury-time, by which stage the county’s supporters were streaming out of the ground, underlines how much this was not Monaghan’s day.
Donegal led from start to finish and the margin of victory certainly didn’t flatter them. All over the field they had success stories, with the McGee brothers taking care of McManus and Kieran Hughes while old warrior Neil Gallagher, despite wasting possession at times, had a huge game in the middle of the field.
So too did Odhran MacNiallais, at the other end of the age spectrum, who kicked three fine points, including two in the first-half off his supposedly weaker right foot. Ryan McHugh was dynamic and carried a lot of ball and Paddy McBrearty’s impact from the bench was devastating, with three points from play in the second half.
Donegal led 0-6 to 0-4 at half- time, Monaghan feeling aggrieved that a foot block by Karl Lacey on Fintan Kelly did not result in a penalty after 31 minutes.
Lacey was one of three late additions to the team, with Neil Gallagher and Darach O’Connor also starting, with McBrearty, Rory Kavanagh and Martin McElhinney the three to drop out.
Lacey made an immediate impact with the first score after five minutes in a rugged opening period when scores were at a premium. Donegal scored the first three points inside the opening 13 minutes before Paul Finlay opened Monaghan’s account in the 13th minute with a left-footed point from long range and closed the gap to a point with a free nine minutes later.
Monaghan struggled to get a foothold in the game and frequently turned over possession. Donegal were much more clinical when on the ball and MacNiallais scored two stylish points from the wing. Colm McFadden’s free stretched Donegal’s lead to 0-5 to 0-2 after 26 minutes.
When Kelly’s shot at goal went out for a ‘45’, Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan nailed it, having missed two dead ball strikes earlier in the game.
Monaghan picked up four yellow cards in a bad-tempered first half, Dick Clerkin receiving his just before half-time for an off-the-ball challenge on Michael Murphy.
Finlay’s free in first-half stoppage time reduced Donegal’s lead to 0-6 to 0-4 at the break. Donegal were rarely troubled in the second-half, even when McGuinness drilled a low shot across Paul Durcan and into the net for the only goal of the game after 49 minutes.
They scored four of the first five points after the second half through McFadden (two frees), MacNiallais and McBrearty.
Drew Wylie battled manfully against McFadden and had the better of his one-to-one duel but Donegal were on top in most positions.
Michael Murphy did not score until late on but his second free after 68 minutes was a monster effort from almost 60 metres, a fitting score before going up to lift the Anglo Celt Cup for a third time in four years.
Scorers for Donegal: C McFadden 0-4 (4f), O MacNiallais 0-3, P McBrearty 0-3, M Murphy 0-2 (2f), A Thompson, K Lacey, R McHugh 0-1
Scorers for Monaghan: P Finlay 0-4 (3f), C McGuinness 1-0, R Beggan 0-2 (1 ‘45’), V Corey, K Hughes, C McManus 0-1 each
Subs for Donegal: P McBrearty for O’Connor (25), R Kavanagh for Toye (46), M McElhinney for MacNiallais (58), David Walsh for McLoone (59), D Molloy for McFadden (66)
Subs for Monaghan: C McGuinness for McKenna (43), O Duffy for Gollogly (51), P Donaghy for Malone (59), K O’Connell for Kelly (59), G Doogan for Clerkin (67)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved