GAA Football

Monaghan happy to land first blow against Kildare before hosting Kerry

Monaghan's Conor McManus kicks a superb 70th minute score against Kildare in Croke Park on Sunday.
Kenny Archer at Croke Park

Quarter-final Group stage, group one, phase one: Monaghan 0-15 Kildare 1-10

THIS wasn’t knock-out football in any sense but Monaghan can justifiably be happy that they landed the first blow and avoided suffering a sucker punch against a team wearing green.

In truth there was no real concern that Kildare would repeat Fermanagh’s trick and score a last-gasp goal that would have inflicted a first defeat on Malachy O’Rourke’s men since that Ulster semi-final.

Monaghan fully deserve to be one step closer to their first All-Ireland semi-final for 30 years, well worth their first normal time victory in Croke Park since 1930.

They ended their own Croke Park championship hoodoo four years ago in extra time against the Lilywhites, but although Kildare have only won once in headquarters since 2011 their manager Cian O’Neill insisted: “The venue had got nothing to do with it.”

Indeed on the day of the Wimbledon men’s final, he put their defeat down to a term often used in tennis – ‘unforced errors’, arguing:

“It's definitely one that got away. But whoever came out of that the wrong side would have said the same. It was nip and tuck the whole way through from the very first score.

“I think it was always going to be won by the team that made the least amount of mistakes. That was certainly Monaghan today.

“I'm not talking about forced errors, they were very strong in the tackle and full credit to them, but where we're most disappointed is our unforced error count. We just made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes and that cost us in the end.”

For what it’s worth, though, Monaghan were ahead for almost all the match – Kildare in front for just five minutes in total, following their opening score in the first minute and then again for a couple of minutes after full-forward Daniel Flynn clipped the only goal of the game in off the crossbar in the sixth minute.

The Johnstownbridge man posed serious problems for Monaghan captain Drew Wylie early on and was denied a second goal in the opening quarter when Rory Beggan pushed his fierce left-foot shot over for a point.

Yet once Monaghan re-took the lead after that, through a Beggan ‘45’, they largely took control of this game, although Kildare did equalise twice after that, with the sides level as late as the 65th minute – and Neil Flynn missed a fairly simple free after that.

Young Monaghan midfielder Niall Kearns made two crucial contributions in the final stages, scoring his second point from play and then executing a brilliant block on Daniel Flynn after possession had been given away in a dangerous area.

Conor McManus also stepped up late on, as he so often does, scoring a 70th minute point and earning an injury time free converted by Beggan to seal a merited success for the Farneymen.

Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke was understandably pleased with their performance, admitting he was “delighted to have got through it on a very difficult day for playing football.

“We played some good football in the first half, after conceding an early goal. We responded really well even though there were elements of our play that we wanted to tidy up.

“In the second half I thought again we coughed up a wee bit of ball, we weren’t clinical enough. Kildare got back level, but the boys showed a lot of character to kick a couple of points late on to get us through it.”

Despite having declared his intent to attack, O’Rourke made a cautious change to his starting side, bringing in Dessie Mone instead of inside-forward Jack McCarron.

Kildare enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening stages but were wasteful with it to an extent – in the first 15 minutes they had three wides, shot short twice, and struck an upright from a free.

Monaghan repeated some of those failings themselves but were boosted by an excellent performance from Karl O’Connell. Powering up and down the right flank, the Tyholland man not only held Paddy Brophy scoreless but notched three times from play himself.

Kildare pushed Kevin Feely into full-forward but Monaghan merely put a series of markers on him and prevented him from scoring from play; he was just one of many marking jobs done by Darren Hughes, who put in a serious shift throughout, although workrate and clean tackling are big parts of his team.

The Ulstermen led by two at the break, 0-10 and 1-5, and should have pulled further ahead but began to shoot more wides, including McManus completing a rare such double from play and a free.

That inaccuracy allowed Kildare to keep in contention, with three levelling scores of their own from Neil Flynn, wing-back Johnny Byrne, and a Feely free.

However, the introduction of the younger Hughes brother, Kieran, moments before that last score helped Monaghan get back in front and stay there, even though he’d only returned to training last week after hamstring trouble picked up against Fermanagh.

Having achieved one positive repeat of history by beating Kildare in Croke, O’Rourke acknowledged that there had been a slight worry about history repeating itself in a negative manner as a goal could have snatched victory for Kildare:

“You are always thinking that, but we knew that if we got the tackles in out the field we would stop that. One high ball did go in and you are always afraid something like that will happen but the boys held out well and we are delighted with the victory.”

Kildare tended to take too much out of the ball, perhaps given pause by Monaghan’s massed defence keeping them well away from their ‘D’ for much of this match.

O’Neill accepted that their handling also wasn’t good, albeit in slippery, rain-sodden conditions, although he suggested that was down to the tougher opponents they had faced in the qualifiers – Derry, Longford, Mayo, and Fermanagh – compared to Monaghan’s opposition, all from Division Four (Waterford, Leitrim, and Laois):

“That's disappointing because we were so slick, if you want to call it that, particularly last week.

“I really think there was a level of mental fatigue, which can impact skill execution, in my eyes. I think physically we were matching each other right the way through. I think when you make the amount of unforced, handling errors it's more a reflection of not being physically but mentally tired.

“I think our route to this point today probably took more out of us, without any disrespect to Monaghan, they were definitely sharper in some of those execution parts…

“It's disappointing but we can't be too down, we have a quick turnaround to a big match in Newbridge next Sunday and we need to get ourselves back on track for that.”

O’Rourke was also looking forward, and was adamant that Monaghan had not been looking back with any concern about their previous failure to win at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, pointing to the calibre of their opponents on those occasions:

“That is not a big factor with the boys. The four quarter-finals we lost, two times we went in as Ulster champions and Tyrone were waiting for us and twice we lost to Dublin, who are at the height of their powers.

“People have made more of that than it meant to us. Some of our best football has been played in Croke Park, in the National League. The boys actually like playing in Croke Park. We have no fear of it. All the big games are played in Croke Park and we’re delighted to get the chance to play it. And delighted to get the win.”

Even so, they’ll be happier still to be able to host Kerry next Sunday. Speaking before the Kingdom lost to Connacht champions Galway, O’Rourke concluded:

“Kerry is a great game for us to have. They are the aristocrats of Gaelic football and it is great to have them come to Clones.”

History really could be made in St Tiernach’s Park next weekend. Seconds out…

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 0-1 ‘45’, 0-1 free); K Duffy (0-1), D Wylie (capt.), R Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O’Connell (0-3); N Kearns (0-2), D Hughes; R McAnespie, S Carey (0-1), O Duffy; C McCarthy (0-1), D Mone, C McManus (0-4, 0-2 frees).

Substitutes: P McKenna (for O Duffy, 17, black card); J McCarron for Kelly (47); K Hughes for McKenna (60); D Malone for Carey (66).

Yellow cards: Mone (49); McCarron (51); Malone (73).

Black card: O Duffy (17).

Kildare: M Donnellan; P Kelly, D Hyland, M O’Grady; J Byrne (0-1), E Doyle (capt.), K Flynn; K Feely (0-1 free), T Moolick (0-1); F Conway (0-1), P Cribbin, K Cribbin; N Flynn (0-4, 0-2 frees), D Flynn (1-1), P Brophy.

Substitutes: N Kelly for P Cribbin (46); C Healy for Brophy (50); D Slattery for K Cribbin (58); E Callaghan (0-1) for Moolick (69); C McNally for N Flynn (71).

Yellow cards: Hyland (25); Feely (30); N Flynn (32); Brophy (40); Conway (49); O’Grady (51); K Cribbin (58); Healy (74).

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).

Attendance: 30,740.

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