Monaghan scoring power makes the difference as Cavan left looking at the drop
Allianz National Football League Division One: Monaghan 0-14 Cavan 1-8
YOU can analyse the life out of Gaelic football sometimes, between kick-outs, turnovers, sweepers, switches, blankets… the list goes on. But it can also be the simplest game in the world.
At St Tiernach’s Park on Saturday the team with the forwards better equipped to handle a pressure-cooker Ulster derby, one where the threat of relegation loomed large, won the day.
Cavan got off to the perfect start with a Cian Mackey goal just 56 seconds in but Monaghan worked their way back to parity. Level at half-time, 0-6 to 1-3, this game was there for the taking.
Neither could afford to lose, and some of the shooting from both in the first half was atrocious. You could sense the panic in the stand, even if it was surprisingly sparsely populated for a game of this magnitude.
Yet, when it mattered, it was Monaghan who had the aces in their pack while Cavan’s hand looks almost certain to see them drop back down to Division Two at the first time of asking.
In the first half alone they kicked nine wides, including two uncharacteristically rushed efforts from Martin Reilly, and dropped four shots into Rory Beggan’s mitts. Another three ended up with the Scotstown man in the second half, though no further wides were kicked – largely because they didn’t really shoot.
Time and again runners from deep had a good look at the posts before deciding otherwise, with only sub Gearoid McKiernan – making his first appearance in county colours this year – and the occasional burst from Dara McVeety posing any real threat as the game ran away from them.
Unsurprisingly it was Conor McManus who, despite coming in for some hefty treatment at times, repeatedly dusted himself down to help calm a nervy-looking Monaghan side.
Well shackled by Padraig Faulkner before the break, he managed to escape the Kingscourt man in the 53rd minute to register his first point from play, a lovely ball from Ryan McAnespie finding McManus who swapped passes with Shane Carey before slotting over.
And when he boomed over another from 46 metres three minutes before the end, the Monaghan crowd knew it was job done.
Conor McCarthy had a frustrating afternoon but showed flashes of brilliance, while the class of Jack McCarron told when he was brought from the bench nine minutes into the second half.
In an eventful cameo the Currin man landed three points, two from play, before being shown two yellow cards in the space of four minutes, eventually departed the action 24 minutes after he had joined it.
Malachy O’Rourke breathed a sigh of relief at the final whistle, and the Farneymen head to Castlebar on Sunday with survival still in their own hands.
“We played some good football but we wasted a lot of ball,” he said.
“We knew coming in with the wind that was there that if we were close at half-time we would be in with a good chance. There are lots of things we need to improve on but we knew that if we didn’t win today we would be facing relegation and we didn’t want that.
“At least we’ve given ourselves a fighting chance because if we had lost today we were doomed.”
The Farney boss was sent to the line near the end of the game after objecting to a foul awarded against Fintan Kelly for what looked a fairly late challenge on Martin Reilly, with O’Rourke admitting he got caught up in the moment.
“I was just disappointed that a few decisions were going against us and when you are desperate for points like that, those decisions are very important.
“When you are fighting for your life all those decisions count up and it gets frustrating, but I suppose I should know better at my age.”
It had all looked so good for Cavan too after Mackey’s early strike, slamming the ball home with his left foot after being fed by Killian Clarke following a brilliant midfield mark taken by McVeety.
Monaghan, normally so patient in working opportunities, looked panicky and repeatedly kicked the ball into Cavan hands during those tense early exchanges before gradually getting on top.
The pace of McCarthy was causing them problems through the middle, while Gavin Doogan and Darren Hughes wrestled back control at midfield after a shaky start.
Monaghan came out of the blocks quickest in the second period, and the strength of their bench told too as the game wore on, with McAnespie and McCarron in particular providing them with an edge that Cavan were lacking.
McKiernan looked sharp considering his lack of football, but there wasn’t enough of a scoring threat elsewhere for Cavan to avoid slipping ever closer to the dreaded drop.
“When you cough up possession too easy you get punished and we’ve learned that the hard way, simple as,” said Breffni boss Mickey Graham.
“We look at our games through the League and we’ve actually had as much possession or even more than a lot of teams, and it’s just that final ball inside or shot selection at times has let us down and then we’re getting punished on the counter-attack.
“We’re not going to paper over it, it’s not looking good; it looks as good as gone now at this stage. It’s out of our hands, but it’s been a really hard learning curve in Division One.”
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, frees); C Boyle, D Wylie; R Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe, K O’Connell; D Hughes (0-1), G Doogan; F Kelly, D Malone, S Carey; C McCarthy (0-2, 0-1 free), M Bannigan, C McManus (0-6, 0-4 frees). Subs: R McAnespie for Doogan (HT), Jack McCarron (0-3, 0-1 free) for Bannigan (44), K Duffy for Corey (48), O Duffy for Carey (57), B Kerr for O’Connell (74)
Yellow cards: C McManus (38), J McCarron (6, 68), F Kelly (72), C Boyle (74)
Red card: J McCarron (68)
Cavan: R Galligan (0-1, free); J McLoughlin, P Faulkner; C Moynagh; G Smith, C Brady, C Rehill; D McVeety (0-1), K Clarke; P Smith, N Murray, M Reilly, C Mackey (1-1); N McKiernan (0-1, free), C Madden (0-1). Subs: S Smith for P Smith (HT), G McKiernan (0-3, 0-2 frees) for Mackey (49), J Smith for N McKiernan (49), J Brady for Murray (62)
Black card: D McVeety (76)
Yellow card: P Smith (7)
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)