GAA Football

Eoin Donnelly goal stuns Monaghan as Fermanagh reach Ulster final

Fermanagh assistant Ryan McMenamin celebrates on the final whistle in Healy Park yesterday Picture by Philip Walsh
From Neil Loughran at Healy Park, Omagh

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10

WHISPER it quietly - and if you’re from Fermanagh don’t whisper it at all - but maybe, just maybe, this could be the year long-suffering followers of the Erne County have been waiting for.

Finalists in 1914, 1935, 1945, 1982 and 2008, under the stewardship of yesterday’s defeated Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke, each time they finished up with no cigar, and no Anglo-Celt.

Alongside Wicklow, Fermanagh are the only county yet to have been crowned provincial champions but, after yesterday’s dramatic late victory at Healy Park, there is suddenly a feeling that anything is possible.

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And the most impressive thing about it was, with 70 minutes on the clock, they looked gone.

Bodies already broken by the energy-sapping heat, a black card for Ruairi Corrigan after 66 minutes left them to play out the remainder with 14 men.

When Drew Wylie broke forward and played a lovely one-two with Dermot Malone before slotting over to restore Monaghan’s two-point lead, the Farneymen appeared to have finally sunk a spirited Fermanagh challenge.

But the towel never came in. The white flag wasn’t raised. In fact, the only flag raised was green as the Ernemen somehow summoned the strength to conjure the ultimate sucker punch.

In the first minute of added time the ball was worked to Ryan Jones out on the right and he looked up and sent a long, high punt towards the square.

As the ball dropped, in came Jones’s midfield partner Eoin Donnelly to rise above Rory Beggan, Darren Hughes and Vinny Corey to ripple the net, sparking wild celebrations. It was a thunderbolt moment in a game that offered very few.

And as a wave of shock and disbelief worked its way around the ground, Fermanagh regrouped. There was always a sense that Monaghan would have at least one more chance, and they did, and it fell to exactly the man they would have wanted it to.

Conor McManus, without a score from play, 74 minutes on the clock, a fortnight on from his heroics on the same stretch of sod against Tyrone. It had to be. Surely. Didn’t it?

As the Clontibret ace found himself slightly right of the posts, maybe 30 metres out, and with the kind of space he had been denied all day, you just expected to see the ball sail over the black spot.

But it didn’t, instead pulling left and dropping wide to a huge roar from the Fermanagh faithful. Never mind black cats or pairs of magpies, when Conor McManus passes up a chance like that, at a moment like that, you know your luck is in.

And, in truth, it was a victory you couldn’t deny Rory Gallagher’s men for their sheer effort and industry.

Ciaran Corrigan was named in the place of Seamus Quigley among the Fermanagh forwards, a clear indication that if you thought the Ernemen had set up to stifle and control Armagh two weeks earlier, you hadn’t seen anything yet.

Once again they were supremely well drilled, while their fitness also shone through in the most testing of circumstances. And for long spells they frustrated the life out of Monaghan, who found their opponents so hard to break through, and shooting opportunities so hard to engineer.

They waited 17 minutes for their first score, a McManus free, and 13 for the next from the same source.

The Farney, as was the case against Tyrone, didn’t lose their cool. But they were guilty of playing into Fermanagh’s hands by giving away some cheap frees, although the Ernemen were occasionally helped by referee Conor Lane on that front.

Sean Quigley was happy to profit from three such opportunities in the first half, while Aidan Breen somehow managed to find yards of space to crash over two crucial scores as Gallagher’s men held a 0-5 to 0-1 lead with 28 minutes on the clock.

But when Fintan Kelly swept over after good work by Kieran Hughes on the end line, the tide looked to be turning. Hughes had been sent into the full-forward line after being largely nullified by Lee Cullen, while McManus cut an isolated figure with green jerseys seemingly everywhere he looked.

Karl O’Connell, kept quiet for much of the opening half by Kane Connor, was moved to counteract Breen’s runs and forced the Fermanagh man back with his blistering pace for a spell, although his influence waned as the game wore on.

The Tyholland man won a free, converted by McManus, to reduce the deficit to a point into added time, but Conall Jones would have the last word.

The Derrygonnelly man picked up the ball on the run 40 metres out, turned and fired over a monster score to send the Ernemen in at the break with a serious pep in their step.

Monaghan brought on Dermot Malone five minutes into the second half and he was one of their best performers, quickly turning over Declan McCusker and feeding Ryan McAnespie, who reduced it to the minimum again.

When a McManus free made it 0-6 apiece with a quarter of an hour left, the momentum looked to be with Monaghan – especially when Drew Wylie put them ahead for the first time.

But it was going to take a silver bullet to shake off Fermanagh yesterday as substitute Tomas Corrigan twice popped over pressure frees following scores from Colin Walshe and McManus, whose fifth free of the day came after a searing run from Conor McCarthy was ended by a Ruairi Corrigan trip.

The Kinawley man, only brought on in the 50th minute, was shown a black card, leaving Fermanagh with 14 men after using up all their subs and trailing by two with four minutes left.

And when Wylie strode forward again to make it 0-10 to 0-8, the jig looked up. Monaghan, defeated semi-finalists in the last two years, would surely make it third time lucky.

But the Ernemen hadn’t read the script, and if there was an explosion in the stands after Donnelly’s goal, it was nothing compared to the explosion of green on the pitch that greeted Lane’s final whistle.

A first Ulster final in 10 years awaits against either Down or Donegal. Already they have been 2/1 and 4/1 underdogs and upset the odds on both occasions.

Only a fool would bet against them doing the same on June 24.

Fermanagh: P Cadden; K Connor, C Cullen, M Jones; B Mulrone, J McMahon, L Cullen; E Donnelly (1-0), R Jones; P McCusker, D McCusker, A Breen (0-2); C Corrigan, C Jones (0-1), Sean Quigley (0-3, frees)

Subs: D Teague for M Jones (43), R Corrigan for P McCusker (50), T Corrigan (0-2, frees) for Sean Quigley (55), T Clarke for C Corrigan (60), R Lyons for C Jones (63), C McManus for A Breen (65)

Black cards: R Corrigan (66, no replacement)

Yellow cards: R Jones (35+2), C Cullen (38), B Mulrone (43),

Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie (0-2), R Wylie; D Mone, V Corey, K O’Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes; F Kelly (0-1), K Hughes, D Ward; R McAnespie (0-1), J McCarron, C McManus (0-5, frees). Subs: D Malone for Ward (40), C McCarthy for McCarron (40), C Walshe (0-1) for Kelly (51), O Duffy for K Hughes (55), C Boyle for D Mone (65)

Black cards: V Corey (72, replaced by S Carey)

Yellow cards: N Kearns (35+2), C McManus (38)

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

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