Tyrone's Burns and McCurry prove too hot for Monaghan
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final: Monaghan 1-5 Tyrone 0-11
THE Saturday night lights haven’t thrown up too many bad McKenna Cup finals in recent years, but this one offered nothing.
For 3,817 hardy souls that braved the freezing air in Armagh, there was barely a single moment in 80 minutes that would have given them even lukewarm relief.
Even in the most numbing of games, there is almost always something. But beyond Darren McCurry skimming over two points off his bad foot, the blood pressure got no workout at all.
And yet, for all that there were only three points in it and that they were never quite through the gap until it was over, it wasn’t a bad Tyrone performance. It was certainly a lot better of a Tyrone performance than it was a Monaghan one.
There was at least a bit of shape and structure to Mickey Harte’s side, an idea that they were about something. In attack, they operated very much off Frank Burns, whose willingness to move and run around the back of Conor Boyle made him elusive.
Of what must have been 16, 17 balls between the pair of them, Burns won almost every single one. Having been man-of-the-match as their sweeper against Down last Sunday, he operated inside on Saturday night. Burns kicked the game’s first score and set up another two before half-time.
Yet if there is a criticism of the Pomeroy man, it’s that he was indirect in his tendency to look for support rather than look for the posts. There were chances to take Boyle on but Burns spent his night going away from goal.
Still, he was the best player on the park over the 70 minutes. Tyrone kept it very, very wide around him as their imitation of Dublin became a carbon copy. Whether it proves to be a forgery is something we’ll not know for a few months yet.
Burns held the edge of the square and everyone else cleared completely out of the zone in front of Monaghan’s goal. Tyrone had runners coming at angles from deep, and that drew Farney sweeper Paráic Keenan out of the middle as he went to meet men, creating space for the kick in behind him.
When Darren McCurry came on, he played at 11 and again fizzed around, building on his fine early-season form. He had his three points by half-time, two of them off his weaker right, the first of them after a lovely dummy on Dessie Ward.
The spark he provided was never going to be enough to light the fire on its own. Ronan O’Neill finished the night with three from play as well. His involvements were more fleeting, though he’d point to the productivity level off his touches.
And while they had runners coming at it from deep, they never really threatened to open Monaghan up that way. If Seamus McEnaney’s men are to take any credit for their display, it is in the fact that they were diligent enough and honest enough to keep filtering back and closing up the gaps.
You could almost have predicted it looking at their teamsheet pre-match. Barring giving Conor Forde a run ahead of Rory Beggan, it was a strong and experienced Monaghan defence. Niall Kearns jumped out at midfield.
But only Dessie Ward and Conor McCarthy had any significant experience in the attack name, and Ward played at wing-back. It showed.
McCarthy kicked three fine points himself, but it was all very individual stuff as he was starved of support. While the unit had a bit of pace about it, they were light in physique, and often Tyrone didn’t even have to take the ball off them. Monaghan just handed it over.
Two scores from McCarthy levelled the game at 0-3 apiece after 23 minutes, but by half-time Tyrone had hit the game’s one purple patch and hit five on the bounce.
Part of that came off their press on Conor Forde’s kickouts. The Emyvale man miscued a couple but he wasn’t helped at all by the team’s shape. Behind Tyrone’s wall of four half-forwards, there were only isolated white shirts standing in big spaces. Each of them had three, four red shirts in the vicinity. The ball coming back in was inevitable.
0-8 to 0-3 down, Kieran Hughes, Ryan McAnespie, Conor McManus and Micheal Bannigan were all on the Monaghan bench yet Banty resisted the temptation to spring them, opting for Dermot Malone as the sole half-time replacement.
It did genuinely look like a night where they were happy enough to get minutes into legs that hadn’t had them, and if they won too sure that’d be grand.
That never once looked like happening, even less so in a truly woeful second half. There were just six scores, and Monaghan’s goal came in stoppage time.
If ever a goal summed up a game, this was it. Dessie Ward’s shot was skied and hung until everyone lost interest, before coming down off the post. Niall Morgan, in rushing to close Barry McBennett down as he caught it, bumped into the turning Hugh Pat McGeary. McBennett trickled the ball home off his studs and gave absolutely no reaction.
Monaghan did even have a couple of half chances to turf a ball in and test the three-point cushion but Frank Burns dropped back and got up to win unchallenged the one ball that was put in.
Speaking of Niall Morgan there, he had a very good game too. Brilliantly solid in the air, he took a series of catches, some of them not that handy. With a 60-yard raking pass right into Darren McCurry’s midriff in the second half, he caught the eye. Not bad for man lacking sleep after the birth of his first child recently.
And yet it speaks volumes of the game that a kick-pass is worthy of such glowing mention. There really wasn’t anything else to talk about.
The McKenna Cup goes home to Tyrone for the 10th time in 11 years.
Now, can we all forget this ever happened and go on with our lives?
Monaghan: C Forde; C Walshe, D Wylie, C Boyle; P Keenan; S Carey (0-2, 0-1 free), R Wylie, D Ward; N Kearns, B McBennett (1-0); MP O’Dowd, R McAllister, P Donnelly; C McCarthy (0-3), K McEnaney.
Subs: K Duffy for Walshe (4), D Malone for Donnelly (HT), K O’Connell for Boyle (46), R McAnespie for O’Dowd (53), K Hughes for McEnaney (66).
Yellow cards: K Duffy (39), D Malone (42).
Tyrone: N Morgan; R McNamee, HP McGeary; C Quinn, M O’Neill (0-1), T McCann; M Cassidy; C Cavanagh, C Grugan; C Meyler, D Mulgrew, K McGeary (0-1); R O’Neill (0-4, 0-1 free), F Burns (0-1), D Kerr (0-1).
Subs: D McCurry (0-3) for Mulgrew (24), B McDonnell for Cavanagh (HT), N Sludden for O’Neill (53), N Kelly for McNamee (56).
Yellow cards: C Cavanagh (30), D McCurry (39), F Burns (56).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).