Analysis: Monaghan's dangermen utilise space in behind
IT was an exciting but ultimately forgettable Ulster under-21 semi-final four years ago that I first noticed the stunt Monaghan pulled repeatedly on Sunday.
Donegal played Derry up in Omagh and the most memorable thing about that night was undoubtedly the virtuouso display by Patrick McBrearty at full-forward.
But Derry, under Paddy Crozier, had devised an idea to get in behind Donegal’s massed defence. It had permeated the ranks in Tír Chonaill and with all their teams using it, Derry tried something new.
Their full-forward would show for the ball as usual but just as it was about to be played, they would turn on their heels and swivel in behind the defender.
The ball was played over the top and the forward was able to run on to it into a space where there was no sweeper. It was unorthodox but it led directly to four points on that particular night.
You’d have seen forwards do it an odd time since but Sunday was probably the first time since that it’s been really noticeable as a repeated tactic.
It brought about Monaghan’s crucial 60th minute goal. Granted, Conor Moynagh was still goalside and should have done more to prevent the score, but McManus had thrown five Cavan defenders with the timing of his movement.
Owen Duffy’s thinking was in sync and when McManus showed in front, Duffy held the ball that extra second before popping it into the space behind.
McManus turned Padraig Faulkner and was left with the free run before firing his brilliant low finish past Raymond Galligan.
It was far from the only example all afternoon. McManus’s 21st minute point that brought the arrears back to one at 0-5 to 0-4 was almost exactly the same.
Kieran Duffy did the work from deep and McManus came out at a canter as though he would take the ball on the loop.
But with Faulkner trying to be cute and play half a yard in front, the Monaghan shooter doubled back and shot in behind.
Only the alertness of James McEnroe to come across and close off the half goal chance forced the Clontibret man to take the point instead, but it was the warning sign as to what would follow.
A minute later it was Jack McCarron at exactly the same thing, coming short for the pass before swinging in behind McEnroe.
Vinny Corey’s pass was meant for McCarron but actually ended up in the hands of McManus, who won a free in front of goal, but the idea was the same.
It wasn’t utilised to the same degree in the second half but when they needed to break it out of the box again, they did so to devastating effect - something for the Down full-back line to be wary of.
ONE of the other notable differences between the two teams was the manner of their play inside the opposition 45.
While Cavan had their moments, a lot of them provided by Cian Mackey, there was at times too great an indecision about what they did with the ball in attack.
It was no surprise to see Gerard Smith’s name in Performa Sports’ list of players with the most possessions, coming out 34 touches. He picked up so much free ball on the edge of the Monaghan 45 and the vast majority of it was centrally.
Yet he and those around him had a hard time creating an incision in the wall of white shirts that Monaghan put across the 45.
Cavan were turned over so often when they stepped into that zone yet Monaghan, particularly through Owen Duffy, were able to make much more direct inroads.
It was largely down to the decisiveness and the power of their running. While Cavan allowed themselves to be slowed up and made to look unsure of who would take command of the attack, Monaghan punched holes much more effectively.
That was a lot down to the desire of the likes of Duffy and Karl O’Connell to support the attack at lung-bursting pace, even against the wind in the first half.
Duffy was particularly effective. He may only have had 20 possessions but from them he scored 0-4, directly assisted 1-1, had a goal chance that was blocked by Padraig Faulkner and created another shot for Fintan Kelly.
And then just to top it all off and endear himself further to Monaghan supporters, he took a black card to stop a Cavan attack in injury-time.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: KARL O’CONNELL
While he made a home for himself as an effective, energetic midfielder last year, there’s little doubt that Karl O’Connell’s best position is at wing-back. He looks eternally comfortable in so many facets of the game and his composure on the ball and measured use of it was evident in a polished display. His attacking work was particularly notable in setting up Owen Duffy’s first half goal chance after winning the ball directly from the kickout and breaking down Cavan’s pressure on Beggan’s restarts. He assisted three scores from 10 successful attacks and was effective inside the opposition 45 throughout.