GAA Football

Monaghan memories of a magnificent decade

Owen Lennon lifts the Anglo-Celt Cup with Conor McManus alongside him in 2013.
Picture Colm O'Reilly.
John P Graham

The dawn of the decade in review saw Monaghan in a fairly healthy state operating in division 1 and reaching their second Ulster senior football championship final in four years, but unfortunately Tyrone again proved their nemesis in Clones in 2010 as they also had done in 2007.

League form, though, did not continue and by the end of the 2012 season Monaghan found themselves consigned to division 3, but new hope was on the horizon with the appointment of Malachy O’Rourke as manager. Seamus McEnaney had brought Monaghan to a new level and injected a whole new enthusiasm in the County, but fortunes took a down turn with retirements, etc and relegation in successive seasons was bitterly disappointing.

Malachy O’Rourke’s tenure started an upward curve in the County’s fortunes, achieving promotion back to division 2 at the end of the 2013 season and also making a major breakthrough in championship terms by taking the Ulster championship title for the first time since 1988.

Goals played a vital part in that victory in the division 3 league final in 2013, Owen Duffy with a screamer in the first half and then Kieran Hughes clinching the title with a late major. Another player was beginning to have an impact in 2013 and a who was to go on to have a major influence not only in Monaghan, but nationally on the goalkeeping scene in the country in the shape of Rory Beggan, whose exploits are now legendary.

The following year, 2014 Monaghan suffered their only reverse in the league at the hands of Donegal, but made amends when they defeated th Tir Chonaill men by six points in the division 2 final, Kieran Hughes again popping up with the vital goal at the vital time after Donegal had fought back to parity late in the match and things very much in the balance.

Monaghan captain on that day was Conor McManus, whose name figured prominently year on year in the scoring charts and not just on the inter-County scene but on the Monaghan championship scene as well.

Back in the top flight now for the 2015 season, Monaghan reached the semi-final but even eight superb points from the boot of McManus wasn’t enough to get them over the line.

Despite that setback they continued to improve, although some less informed pundits described them as punching above their weight, but there was nothing lucky about the brilliant goal that Darren Hughes scored against Kerry in the 2016 league.

The following year goals played a vital part in Monaghan winning again on Kerry soil, Gavin Doogan and Jack McCarron rifling in three-pointers to send the huge Monaghan support into raptures.

That same year saw Rory Beggan coming to Monaghan’s rescue on a number of occasions in Castlebar and late on an excellent point by Conor McManus from an almost impossible angle and a goal by Darren Hughes secured Monaghan’s first win on Mayo soil.

In league football. 2018 saw Monaghan lower the Kerry colours in Inniskeen, Conor McManus with another goal, but this time a defender, Ryan Wylie, also rifling to the Kerry net within minutes of his introduction as a sub at the start of the second-half, for a result that saw Monaghan retain division one status for the 2019 season.

There were few highlights in the 2019 season, but form had dipped somewhat and results were hard earned but everyone got a major lift with victory over Dublin in Clones in a game that saw Jack McCarron float over five excellent points and goals apiece by Shane Carey and Stephen O’Hanlon secured victory in a game where two referees took charge, Armagh’s Padraig Hughes replacing David Coldrick, who picked up an injury.

So division one status was retained for the current season, but events outside the Association impacted and Monaghan now are like all others, in a wait and hope situation.

While the leagues have given Monaghan many occasions to celebrate, the championships in that time were a mixed bag although there were days when Monaghan supporters thought the sun would never set.

The highlights championship wise were winning the Ulster championship in 2013 and 2015 but before that there was a major talking point in the senior football championship when Darren Hughes lined out in goals Casement Park and acquitted himself with a couple of vital saves.

Monaghan reached the final in 2010 but Tyrone proved superior on the day, although the switching of Vincent Corey from full back to full forward almost engineered a dramatic turnaround.

The following year Tyrone were victorious in the opening round with the highlight being a Darren Hughes goal from a penalty, while in 2012, Monaghan started with victory over Fermanagh, but then lost the semi-final to Down in heartbreaking circumstances in Armagh. 2013 saw Monaghan end a twenty-five years wait for an Ulster title with one of the highlights of the final, being a trademark point from Dessie Mone but three apiece from Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus went a long way to securing victory.

It turned out to be a championship double that day as the Monaghan minor team ended a sixty eight year’s championship famine when they defeated Tyrone in a late dramatic turnaround in the final.

2014 saw Monaghan, back in the final of the Ulster senior football championship, only to lose to Donegal, but they got revenge the following year when they met Donegal in the final again, after victories over Fermanagh and Cavan earlier, and six points from the boot of Conor McManus went a long way to securing victory.

Disappointment though was Monaghan’s lot the following year when they lost the semi-final to Donegal after a replay, a brilliant point by Conor McManus salvaging a draw after expectations were high when they had blitzed Down in the quarter-final.

The highlight of the 2017 championship would have been 1-4 by Conor McManus against Cavan, while the championship in 2018 was certainly one to forget. It started well with victory over Tyrone where a goal by Vinny Corey helped them to a two points victory and a young player, Conor McCarthy was beginning to make an impact. A point by Conor McManus in that game is still shown on national TV as one of the great scores of recent years.

The semi-final against Fermanagh was certainly one to forget, while in 2019 Monaghan again failed to make an impact as they were consigned to the qualifiers after the quarter-final, but Armagh put a stop to their progress in that particular year.

Over the years though Monaghan had made quite an impact in the qualifiers and between the years 2010 and 2020, or in fact 2019 as there has been no championship football this year so far, Monaghan have played thirteen matches and while they have experienced some disappointing defeats, they also recorded some memorable victories.

Their best run in the qualifiers was in 2018, when they reached the new category of the super eights and the highlight of that particular journey was their victory over Galway in Salthill on a day that Monaghan supporters will never forget. Monaghan reached the quarter-finals of the All Ireland senior football championship on a number of occasions but 2018 market a whole new opportunity as they made the semi-final for the first time since 1988, but a second victory in the same season over Tyrone proved impossible, although there was a degree of controversy in how Monaghan lost and even Tyrone won. Rory Beggan played a major role in that great run of qualifier games and he also finished as Monaghan’s second highest scorer with 0-18, (thirteen frees and five from 45s), underlining a whole new aspect of his game and that allied to his almost perfect kick out strategy marked him out as a special player.

Conor McManus topped the charts with 2-47, and Rory Beggan was followed by Conor McCarthy on 1-13, Karl O’Connell 1-7, Jack McCarron 0-9, Ryan McAnespie 0-9, , Fintan Kelly 1-6, Shane Carey 1-5, Niall Kearns 0-6, Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey on 1-2 each, Darren Hughes and Colin Walshe 0-5 each, Drew Wylie 0-4, Kieran Hughes 0-2, Dessie Ward, Conor Boyle and Dermot Malone 0-1 each and that list of scorers may well be one that is looked back on in future years as something special as the whole question of the qualifier system will now be up for major review.

So decade that has its high points and its low points but taken overall in retrospect it is still the best decade Monaghan has enjoyed as far as the games are concerned and the level they were playing at.

 

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