‘I’d never doubt them,’ says Monaghan manager after dramatic draw with Louth

All-Ireland SFC Group 2, round 2: Monaghan 2-10 Louth 2-10

Conor McCarthy of Monaghan in action against Louth.
Conor McCarthy scored a great goal for Monaghan in their dramatic draw against Louth. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile (Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

For an hour this looked like offering more ammunition to the critics of the group stage format, with Louth seemingly cruising towards victory – then a moment of madness sparked a dramatic finale.

A stray pass across the pitch, combined with Louth goalkeeper Niall McDonnell strangely deciding to push himself forward when the opposition were pressing up, literally left Monaghan with an empty net.

Micheal Bannigan seized the loose ball, seized the opportunity, and lobbed the ball into the goal.

Micheal Bannigan will cause the Tyrone defence headaches at Healy Park
Micheal Bannigan helped rescue a draw for Monaghan

Monaghan were still a point down, 2-8 to 2-9, but their tails were up. They went on to take the lead, and even after a levelling free from Sam Mulroy the hosts had the chance to win it, but corner-back Ryan O’Toole blazed wide in the fourth minute of added time.

Even after eight consecutive losses, in League and Championship, Monaghan boss Vinny Corey insisted he’d never lost belief in his players’ fighting spirit, saying:

“No, I’d never doubt them that way but when you are on a losing streak it gets harder and harder to get it turned, you know?

“Listen it would have been easy for the boys to feel sorry for themselves but they got themselves lifted up and came back again and got the game turned around to go a point up and possibly could have won it.”

This was a match Monaghan probably should have lost, certainly could have won, and will be content to have drawn.

The bleeding was staunched at last and their destiny is at least back in their own hands – avoid defeat against neighbours Meath in the final round, probably at the neutral venue of Kingspan Breffni Park, and they’ll be into the preliminary quarter-finals.

Louth are guaranteed to progress to the last 12, an outcome which delighted their boss Ger Brennan, softening the pain of the self-inflicted wound which cost them victory.

“It’s great to get a point on the board,” said the Dubliner. “Now we’ve technically gotten out of the group stage which is a huge achievement for the group.

“While they learnt a lot from the previous management [Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin], they’re really getting to a place now where it shouldn’t matter who is managing the team.

“They are a great group of guys. Delighted for that achievement for them. Success looks like trying to go one further than last year, which the lads have done.

“When we play Kerry in two weeks’ time, we will have gotten to play against two of the best teams in the country in such a short space of time [after facing Dublin in the Leinster Final]. That’s great to calibrate where you are, how close we are pushing towards the top two. The lads will be looking forward to the game.”

Sam Mulroy emerged as one of the best footballers in the country under Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Sam Mulroy emerged as one of the best footballers in the country under Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin Picture: Seamus Loughran.

Louth probably won’t want to look back too much on this match, definitely not the second half, although the creativity of centre half-forward Ciaran Keenan conjured up some terrific play before the break.

Louth set up with Bevan Duffy as a sweeper, Conor Grimes dropping into midfield, but their approach certainly wasn’t defensive.

The visitors’ slick hand-passing was posing repeated problems for the hosts and it almost brought the opening goal. Skipper and full-forward Sam Mulroy exchanged possession with ‘Kiki’ Keenan, then dummied beautifully to create shooting space, but his effort was well turned around by the plunging Rory Beggan.

Louth did find the net after 20 minutes, though, with Keenan again at the heart of matters. This time he hand-passed a 1-2 with the advanced Peter Lynch before supplying Craig Lennon to fire past an exposed Beggan.

Within two minutes, though, home hopes were raised. Conor McCarthy’s role allowed him to room to rove forward and he cut inside from the left onto a hand-pass from Stephen O’Hanlon before wonderfully guiding a low shot inside the far post.

Louth still looked the livelier outfit, however, and made more dominance on the scoreboard just into added time. Once more Keenan was the supplier after a chain of hand-passes, popping the ball to the powerful Grimes who fairly leathered a shot into the net.

Trailing by 2-5 to 1-3, Monaghan clearly had to change, and Corey made the bold move of bringing on Karl O’Connell for captain Kieran Duffy, who had exerted little influence.

Unfortunately the experienced Tyholland man took an early knock and only lasted a quarter, but at least Monaghan were showing signs that they might make a match of this, with the first three scores of the second half – and Michael Hamill also shot straight at McDonnell.

However, two quick scores from Louth corner-forward Ryan Burns moved them clear again, and as the game entered the final quarter the visitors were five up, 2-9 to 1-7.

With Monaghan coughing up possession for the umpteenth time, it seemed that something extraordinary would have to occur for Louth not to win, and so it proved.

Indeed, beside Bannigan’s goal out of nothing, there was the rarity of Mulroy missing a free, his tricky effort coming back off the right upright.

Monaghan had sent on their shooting star, Conor McManus, and his second successful free brought the teams level for the first time since the scoring started.

When Beggan, who might have been lost to American Football, stepped up to nail a long-range free to put Monaghan ahead for the first time, it appeared that the famed Farney fighting spirit had worked its magic again.

Yet Mulroy showed that he could match the Scotstown man’s accuracy from distance, converting a free from outside the ‘45′.

With the home support roaring them on, Monaghan went for the kill, in vain – but at least they’re back to life.

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1 free); R Wylie, K Lavelle, R O’Toole (0-1); J Irwin, K Duffy (capt.) (0-1 mark), C McCarthy (1-0); G Mohan (0-1), R McAnespie; S O’Hanlon, M Bannigan (1-1), M Hamill; C McNulty (0-1), J Wilson (0-1), J McCarron (0-1 free).

Substitutes: K O’Connell for Duffy (h-t); C McManus (0-2 frees) for McCarron (46); A Woods for O’Connell (inj., 54); S Jones for Hamill (64); M McCarville for Wilson (74).

Louth: N McDonnell; D McKenny, D Corcoran, P Lynch; C McKeever, A Williams, C Lennon (1-0); T Durnin, B Duffy; N Sharkey, C Keenan, C Grimes (1-0); R Burns (0-2), S Mulroy (capt.) (0-7, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ‘45′), C Downey (0-1).

Substitutes: L Grey for Lennon (55); C Byrne for Downey (55, inj.); P Matthews for Sharkey (66); T Jackson for Burns (67).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).