Donegal beat Monaghan in high-scoring clash to reach McKenna Cup semi-final
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section C: Monaghan 0-19 Donegal 4-17
SOMETIMES when things change and people have to adjust, they will find a new normal in time. That's the process that Monaghan and Donegal are both in.
It's not the norm to read so much into a McKenna Cup encounter and indeed the lesson was not so much in the actual pace, style and aesthetics of yesterday's encounter.
Because the way things are in January doesn't always bear a resemblance to the way things are in March or May.
The difference here was in words matching actions.
Declan Bonner has been promising to throw the shackles off. And having seen his side score 21 times and concede 19 times in Clones, it wasn't exactly flawless, but judging by his comments, this is the new normal for Donegal.
“We're trying to play a bit higher up the pitch and we saw the benefits of that. We did concede a lot of scores but we scored a lot going forward. It's a fine line.
“Do we go back to our 13, 14 men behind the ball and play on the break? No, I think we've got to play on the front foot.
“We're going to concede scores, there's no doubt about that, but we have a lot of options going forward and we have to play to our strengths.
“It's a balancing act and we have to get the balance right. We wouldn't be happy conceding 19 scores but we got a lot of joy going forward.”
Malachy O'Rourke is also trying to paint a base coat over the leopard's spots. Monaghan have had so much success from a more limited gameplan that it would have taken something unexpected to make them consider changing, but
that's what last year's All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Dublin was.
At times yesterday, he had three out-and-out inside forwards. There was a definite look to kick the ball inside when it was on and Jack McCarron, James Wilson and Micheal Bannigan all could have claimed to have won their individual battles in the first half.
But the end for them didn't justify the means in quite the same way it did for their guests for an icy afternoon in Clones.
“Any day you go out and concede a score like that, you wouldn't be overly happy,” said the Monaghan boss.
“Going forward in the first half, we played some good football but we made an awful lot of mistakes in defence and further up the field, and Donegal punished them. We wouldn't be happy with the performance.
“We're tweaking all the time and trying to see can we score more, but there's no point scoring more if you're going to concede scores like that.
“It's looking at it and seeing what the best way forward is for us. Today, conceding a score like that will ask a lot of questions of us.”
In the end, their struggle at midfield undid a lot of what they wanted to do elsewhere. Darren Hughes got through a lot of work but the aerial powers of Nathan Mullins, Hugh McFadden and Caolan McGonagle, and the breaking ball prowess of Ryan McHugh, allowed Donegal to build an area of supremacy on a day when both goalkeepers struggled from restarts.
Monaghan's Shane Garland was a late replacement, while Donegal's Shaun Patton was playing just his third game of Gaelic football in 10 years, having given up soccer after failing to win a new contract at Sligo Rovers for this season.
Odhran Mac Niallais's well-worked and coolly finished major gave Donegal a good start but the hosts' response was strong as they clawed from four down to quickly draw level after 13 minutes.
Conor McCarthy and Jack McCarron (below) with two pointed either side of Paddy McBrearty's second of the day, leaving it 0-9 to 1-5 in the hosts' favour, but the Kilcar man would open up thereafter and finish with 1-8 in a fine performance.
Paul Brennan did the donkey work to craft the second Donegal goal on 29 minutes, with Jamie Brennan throwing off a desperate tackle to square unselfishly for Ryan McHugh, who palmed home a trademark goal from six yards.
And with McHugh, McBrearty (two) and Jamie Brennan notching four between them, the gap stretched to five at half-time, 2-9 to 0-10.
McCarron's penalty miss came in the first real attack of the second half and by this stage, the Monaghan inside line had gone a bit quieter, overshadowed by the trio at the other end.
Jamie Brennan and Darach O'Connor both impressed with their pace and directness, while despite a couple of good interventions from Paraic McGuirk, the Farney couldn't really deal with McBrearty.
The goal that killed it was a thing of beauty. McBrearty had been
on the move looking for an early ball but it didn't come. When MacNiallais got the ball in hand, though, McBrearty knew it would. He darted right and the ball was dropped perfectly into his path from 40 yards away.
He slipped on to his left and hit it so hard that, despite getting two hands to it, Garland could only watch as it spun through them and dropped into the net.
The fourth goal was equally brilliant and different too. Mac Niallais flicked a rolling ball up into his team-mate's hands on their own 45 and Monaghan were busted open. Four on three, they worked it brilliantly through McBrearty and Marty O'Reilly, the timing of each pass perfect before being matched by Jamie Brennan's delivery to the top corner.
At that stage O'Rourke called for Owen Duffy and Karl O'Connell off the bench out of the fear that it would get even worse than the 14-point margin they were staring at.
But they hit seven of the game's last 10 scores, with Neil McAdam helping drive them forward, and were handed another penalty when goalkeeper Patton again committed the foul on Conor McCarthy having spilled the first shot and helped save the second in a scramble.
Micheal Bannigan accepted duty but his right-footed kick was at a nice height and allowed Patton to spring and save with a degree of comfort.
Armagh on Wednesday night will provide Donegal with a challenge they already know from a challenge game a couple of weeks ago.
Few will complain if this is the new normal.
Monaghan: S Garland; D McArdle, P McGuirk, B Kerr; J Mealiff (0-2), F Kelly, F Connolly; D Hughes, K Duffy; D Freeman, C McCarthy (0-2), D Ward; M Bannigan (0-4, 0-3 frees), Jack McCarron (0-8, 0-3 frees), J Wilson (0-1).
Subs: John McCarron for McArdle (46), N McAdam (0-1) for Connolly (46), O Duffy (0-1) for Freeman (56), K O'Connell for K Duffy (56), T Kerr for Wilson (65), S Finnegan for Ward (69).
Yellow card: M Bannigan (41)
Donegal: S Patton; C Ward, S McMenamin, P Brennan; T McCleneghan, L McLoone, R McHugh (1-1); N Mullins, H McFadden; C McGonagle, O Mac Niallais (1-1, 0-1 frees), M McHugh (0-1); J Brennan (1-3, 0-1 free), P McBrearty (1-8, 0-6 frees), D O'Connor (0-3). Subs: J McGee for McFadden (h-t), M O'Reilly for M McHugh (50), B McCole for Ward (53), C McGinley for Mullins (53), S McBrearty for P McBrearty (57), E Doherty for McCleneghan (64)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)