Kerry boy wonder David Clifford denies Monaghan All-Ireland semi-final place
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group stage, group one, phase two: Monaghan 1-17 Kerry 1-17
KERRY’S boy wonder made many utter ‘Boy!’ at the end of this gripping game - and wonder how Monaghan aren’t already in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
David Clifford’s superbly taken goal in the fourth minute of added time somehow snatched a draw for the Kingdom and kept their Championship hopes alive.
Indeed Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side may well be favourites to reach the last four now given that they host pointless Kildare in Killarney so Monaghan will probably have to earn a point against Galway in Salthill.
The only consolation for a devastated home side is that, having been knocked out of Ulster by a late goal from Fermanagh, they can get back up off the canvas following this latest body blow.
They live to fight another day but they may feel like a team heading into a replay of a final having had the trophy snatched roughly out of their hands.
Certainly Conor McManus produced a performance reminiscent of Tyrone star Stephen O’Neill’s superb showing in the drawn 2005 Ulster Final, with the Clontibret man also scoring 10 times.
‘Mansy’s first score was a goal, though, brilliantly taken in the second minute, and Kerry never managed to get level again – until Clifford netted.
If Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly’s fisted goal was a knockout punch to the face, Clifford’s was one that left Monaghan gutted and wincing, hitting them as low as his driven shot following a knock-down from Kieran Donaghy.
There had been a gasp of delight (perhaps of fear from the home supporters) when ‘Star’s name was announced, the last one called out, replacing James O’Donoghue – who came on to send in the high ball that led to the leveller.
Kerry also changed the first name on their team-sheet, replacing goalkeeper Shane Murphy with Brian Kelly.
Monaghan, to no surprise whatsoever, kept faith in their numbers one and 15, and Rory Beggan and McManus repaid them once again with the bulk of their scores, 0-4 and 1-9 respectively.
The hosts could hardly have wished for a better start, finding the Kerry net with around 90 seconds on the clock.
Kieran Duffy, given the task of marking the immensely talented Clifford, launched a long ball to McManus, who took full advantage of Mark Griffin’s slip and coolly slipped past the desperately scrambling Kelly to roll in a shot.
The ball was under the Monaghan bar the next minute but Donaghy had clearly pushed Beggan over the line after he caught a speculative ball in.
McManus pointed from play moments later and Monaghan’s tails were right up but they could never quite pull away from a Kerry side fighting for their Championship lives, even if they clearly still aren’t a smoothly functioning machine.
Both teams proceeded to shoot a lot of early wides, five for each side inside the opening 20 minutes.
At least the free-takers were accurate, young Sean O’Shea for Kerry and Beggan and McManus for Monaghan, but the last-named was also a threat from play, pointing three times, and was also involved in scores for his two midfielders, Niall Kearns and Darren Hughes.
His all-round brilliance helped Monaghan into a five-point lead heading into the break – 1-11 to 0-9 – but that lad Clifford reduced the gap with a score from out wide.
Kerry finally switched Ronan Shanahan onto McManus to better effect, which also allowed Griffin to rampage forward as fellow defenders White and Tom O’Sullivan had been doing, before the full-back was forced off injured.
Their re-shaped side, with Michael Burns replacing Kevin McCarthy at the interval, began the second half well, and narrowed the gap to the minimum inside 10 minutes.
Yet McManus – working like a starving dog - and Beggan put Monaghan four up again, and when O’Shea kicked a ball in over the top as Donaghy came running out from full-forward midway through the second half it seemed that Kerry could not rescue themselves.
They were even inflicting wounds on themselves, Moran accidentally colliding with his skipper White, who was briefly forced off with a cut.
The Kingdom’s desperation not to suffer another defeat was evident, though, as the game got as hot and heavy as the weather conditions.
Donaghy, despite being well-marshalled by Vinny Corey, was still putting himself about, booked for a flailing arm on Karl O’Connell, and always trying to disrupt opposition frees.
Perhaps as a consequence, Beggan dropped one short and missed another, and O’Rourke was displeased by Donaghy’s antics or at least the referee’s lack of reaction to them:
“The one thing is consistency… I have often looked in from the outside and some of the marginal calls seem to go against the lesser well-known teams. I don’t know, maybe that is an unfair thing to say. That is for other people to judge.
“Having said that I saw the referee was very strict [on Saturday night] on players encroaching on the free-taker. That happened a couple of times today and it was left unpunished. Those wee marginal calls can make a massive difference in a game like that but that is outside of our control.”
Beggan dragged another free off-target as the end of normal time approached but Monaghan still appeared comfortable, leading by 1-17 to 0-16.
Corey and Monaghan had controlled Donaghy well – until the closing moments. He laid the ball off for sub Anthony Maher to point and leave a goal between the teams, then played his part in the only score in added time.
O’Rourke commented rather ruefully: “Kerry had played that ball in a lot during the day and we coped with it – it was just one of those things. It just bounced and one of their boys got on it and stuck it away well...
“When you’ve somebody like Donaghy on the edge of the square, he’s always going to be a threat…”
Monaghan might have made sure of victory moments before that but instead chose to try to run down the clock rather than add another score, a decision they may well regret, although O’Rourke did not criticise his players:
“Well, maybe – we had the ball up at the top end, which is where you want it, we were trying to keep possession. I’m not exactly sure what happened, we lost it, maybe the referee gave a decision against us, and it allowed them to get the ball back down.”
They did that, O’Donoghue got it up in the air, and from Donaghy’s clever flick the precocious Clifford fired past several defenders and inside the far post.
Heartbreak for Monaghan.
Hope for Kerry, as Fitzmaurice acknowledged: "We are just delighted that we are still in the Championship. We kept going to the end, we got a result thankfully.
“I know we need results going our way in other places, but all we can do is control our own thing and see where that takes us.”
Monaghan thought they were in the All-Ireland semi-finals, but O’Rourke sent out a defiant message: “We are still there, we are still fighting, and that is a good place to be”.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-4 frees); K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe (capt.), V Corey, K O’Connell (0-1); N Kearns (0-1), D Hughes (0-1); R McAnespie, S Carey (0-1), O Duffy; C McCarthy, F Kelly, C McManus (1-9, 0-5 frees).
Substitutes: K Hughes for McCarthy (44); O Duffy for Carey (63); D Mone for Kelly (67).
Yellow cards: K Duffy (38, first half); D Wylie (39).
Kerry: B Kelly; R Shanahan, M Griffin, T O’Sullivan (0-2); P Murphy (0-1), P Crowley, G White; D Moran (0-1), J Barry; K McCarthy, S O’Shea (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ‘45’), S O’Brien (0-1 free); D Clifford (1-3), P Geaney, K Donaghy.
Substitutes: M Burns for McCarthy (h-t); J O’Donoghue for Geaney (50); B O Beaglaoich for Griffin (51); D O’Sullivan for O’Shea (55) A Maher (0-1) for Barry (64); Geaney for O’Sullivan (71).
Blood sub: F Fitzgerald for White (57-58).
Yellow cards: Clifford (38, first half); Donaghy (38); O’Shea (48); O Beaglaoich (68).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).