GAA Football

Sun goes down on Galway Bay as Monaghan celebrate first semi-final in 30 years with emphatic win at Pearse Stadium

Andy Watters at Pearse Stadium

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final phase three: Galway 0-8 Monaghan 0-16

From Andy Watters at Pearse Stadium

A FAMOUS win, emphatic and impressive, and the sun was going down on Galway Bay by the time the Monaghan players finally reached the dressingrooms at Pearse Stadium on Saturday evening.

It was nearly half-eight (the match threw-in at six) before the last of them left the pitch after celebrating with the happy hordes of faithful fans who'd roared them on to a double-scores win over Galway and through to an All-Ireland semi-final (their first in 30 years) against Tyrone OR Donegal (PLEASE DELETE LOSER) at Croke Park next Sunday.

The Ulstermen had arrived at Salthill needing to avoid defeat to clinch second place in Group One but they dominated a lacklustre Galway outfit, whose only previous defeat this season was against Dublin the NFL final, and took top spot.

They'll go into their semi-final with form and confidence. Monaghan have had good teams in the past but look through the class of 2018 and there isn't a weak link.

Goalkeeper Rory Beggan must be well on his way to winning an Allstar this year and from corner-back Kieran Duffy, through the Wylie brothers, Karl O'Connell, Vinny Corey, Darren Hughes, Fintan Kelly, the energetic Dermot Malone up to the outstanding Conor McManus, manager Malachy O'Rourke has assembled an experienced and talented panel.

The peerless McManus is the star but it was Ryan McAnespie who led the way on Saturday with four points – two in either half – from play. Several of his scores came from pacey breaks after turnovers forced by the tight marking and tenacious tackling of a Monaghan defence that gave Galway no room to breath.

The Farneymen were behind after 20 seconds but never trailed again. They led by two points at the break and, with the wind at their backs in the second half, eight at the finish.

“I just thought at half-time, two or three points up, I thought we were in a good position,” said manager O'Rourke.

“But it was a case of going out and making sure it worked, that it didn't dip. We played some good football in the second half, we were able to keep chipping over the scores and we got there in the end.”

Rewind a couple of months and O'Rourke had faced reporters with tears in his eyes after Fermanagh sucker-punched his side to win an Ulster semi-final in Omagh. A fortnight ago, Kerry did the same to grab a draw at the death in Clones – so add resilience to the qualities possessed by this Monaghan side.

“In the immediate aftermath of the Kerry game it was tough because we were so close and then thy caught us at the death,” said O'Rourke, who was in the crowd at Ballybofey yesterday.

“We knew we had played some great football that day, we knew that we had been playing well, it was just a matter of drawing a line under it straight away and refocusing. “After we lost to Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship we would have given our right arm to be coming down here to get a point or two points to get through to an All-Ireland semi-final.

“So no, when that initial disappointment was over we were just delighted to have the chance to come down here and we looked forward to it and we got the result.”

From the throw-in there was purpose about what Monaghan were doing but Galway lacked any sort of spark. Damien Comer flitted in and out of the game and Shane Walsh was well shackled by Monaghan's Colin Walshe.

The Tribesmen have no time to feel sorry for themselves because they now face reigning champions Dublin next Saturday.

“We would be unhappy with maybe intensity levels in the first half,” admitted manager Kevin Walsh who ran his bench to no avail.

“A lot of poor turnovers up in the scoring area where a little bit more patience or more go forward ball would be required.

“(Monaghan were) the hungrier team on the day. It's great to qualify after two games but sometimes that can come into it. At half-time we were 0-7 to 0-5 down playing against the breeze, and that probably left us with a bit too much to do.”

Walsh's side had a point on the board inside a minute but Kelly had Monaghan quickly back on terms and with Corey provided the outlet ball on the left wing, the Farneymen patiently worked scores to take control of the game.

Clontibret clubman Corey edged them ahead and then set up Darren Hughes for another. McManus didn't score his first point until 29 minutes had passed and it sent Monaghan into a 6-3 lead.

Then Hughes out-jumped the towering Thomas Flynn from the kick-out and slipped the ball to McAnespie who sold his marker a dummy a clipped over his second of the half.

Galway pulled two back before the break, but Monaghan led 0-7 to 0-5 and had the wind sweeping in off Galway Bay at their backs in the second half.

The Tribesmen needed to start with purpose and Eamonn Brannigan, their best forward on Saturday, turned O'Connell to create an early chance. But the Tyholland clubman was quickly back on his shoulder and forced him to shoot wide.

His industry set the tone for the half.

McManus and Comer swapped scores and then Dermot Malone and Conor McCarthy – both giving away at least a foot in height – bullied and dispossessed Galway's Sean Andy O Ceallaigh and Flynn and raced forward.

Darren Hughes scored his second and two McManus frees extended the Monaghan lead to five points (0-11 to 0-6).

There was only sporadic resistance from Galway. Brannigan got a point, but Ian Burke's was the last of the game for the home side.

McManus won, and converted, his third free of the half and Beggan sent a 60-metre whistling over the bar with a languid swing of that sledgehammer right leg of his.

The Monaghan fans were out their seats as it went over and few of them sat down again. There was still time for McAnespie to score his fourth and Colin Walshe, Comer and Drew Wylie were all sent off for second yellow cards.

As the seconds ticked away the Farney faithful could contain themselves no longer. There was a they-think-it's-all-over pitch invasion and O'Rourke – who credited them for raising his team's spirits for the Qualifier against Waterford which followed the loss to Fermanagh - was surrounded by fans on the touchline before Conor Lane's final whistle signalled joy and pride in equal measure.

What a win for Monaghan and what a performance away from home against quality opponents made to look very ordinary. They'll know they're guaranteed a much tougher examination next weekend but on Saturday they proved they've got the bite to fight with the big dogs.

Galway: R Lavelle; D Kyne, SA O Ceallaigh, E Kerin; C Sweeney, G Bradshaw, G O'Donnell (0-1); P Cooke (0-1), T Flynn; S Walsh (0-2 frees), A Varley, S Kelly; I Burke (0-1), D Comer (0-1), E Brannigan (0-2)

Subs: P Sweeney for Varley (43), C Duggan for Cooke (51), J Heaney for O Ceallaigh (57), P Cunningham for Brannigan (61), D Wynne for Kerin (63), D Cummins for Burke (68)

Yellow cards: Kyne (28), Duggan (58), Wynne (65), Bradshaw (67), Comer (68&74)

Red card: Comer (74)

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1 free); K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe (0-1), V Corey (0-1), K O'Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes (0-2); R McAnespie (0-4), S Carey, D Malone (0-1); C McCarthy, F Kelly (0-1), C McManus (0-5, 0-4 frees)

Subs: J McCarron for McCarthy (59), N McAdam for Kearns (63), P McKenna for Carey (66), D Mone for Walshe (68)

Blood sub: N McAdam for D Hughes (38), D Hughes for McAdam (ht)

Yellow cards: Walshe (18&74), D Wylie (37&69), O'Connell (49), Malone (53)

Red cards: D Wylie (69), Walshe (74)

Referee: C Lane (Cork)

Attendance: 15,200

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