Down win emotionally-charged Ulster U20 title with extra-time scoring surge
Eirgrid Ulster U20 Football Chammpionship final: Down 3-15 Monaghan 1-14
From Andy Watters at the Athletic Grounds
SOME things are much more important and the tragic death of Monaghan skipper Brendan Og Duffy reminded us all of that but sport has its place and the bright young footballing talents of Ulster served up a terrific U20 final last night.
From the first minute to the last, the action swung from end to end and until the second half of extra-time when Down kicked for home there was never more than a kick of the ball between two evenly-match sides.
Down hands hadn’t touched the ball when Donnach Swinburne played in Darragh McElearney and he opened the scoring inside the first minute. The Mourne youngsters were still settling into the game when Sean Jones played in Ronan Boyle for Monaghan’s second.
Shealan Johnston replied with a point that stung fingertips of Monaghan ’keeper but as applause broke out around the ground in the sixth minute in remembrance of ‘Ogie’ whose family were in the ground last night, Sean Jones (playing his first game since he injured his hamstring against Armagh in the National League) converted the free to leave the Farneymen 0-3 to 0-1 ahead.
But Down hit back and McMullan fisted across goal to the back post where Ruairi O’Hare rose highest and palmed the ball into the net to give Down a 1-1 to 0-3 lead.
Jones levelled with a swerving score on the run and then registered his third of the game with 11 minutes gone to edge Monaghan back in front.
But again Down fought back and wing-backs Anthony Morgan and Tom Smyth both scored as they regained the advantage and then a Johnston free sent the Mournemen into a two-point lead.
O’Hare extended the lead to three and at the other end the Down defence massed on their 45-yard line to force the Monaghan attacks out to the flanks. But the Farneymen found pockets of space were there appeared to be none and Jones and Jason Irwin left just a point between the evenly-matched sides.
O’Hare landed another point for Down but then a sideline ball in a promising position drifted into Monaghan hands and the Farneymen broke. Swinburne made ground down the right and fisted across goal for McElearney to rise highest and flick the ball into the net.
Jones added his fifth and, although McMullan replied, the impressive Inniskeen forward had the final say and his no-nonsense right uppercut sent the ball screaming over the bar to leave Monaghan 1-9 to 1-7 ahead at the break.
Tom Smyth halved the deficit early in the second half but Down then missed two straightforward frees and Jones landed a magnificent seventh for Monaghan.
Andrew Gilmore, just on, and Swinburne traded scores. Gilmore converted another free and, after Irwin pointed for Monaghan, he grabbed Tom Close’s high ball, turned and lashed a shot into the top corner of the Farney net.
Danny Magill shot over when he could have bagged another but Down led 2-11 to 1-12 as the game entered its final 10 minutes. John McGovern, an outstanding talent, had another opportunity but he was denied by Monaghan ’keeper Ryan Farrelly.
Kyle Connolly popped up with the score that left one in it and then, as four minutes of stoppage-time were announced, Jones landed a free to level it and nobody in the raucous Athletic Grounds complained when the game went to extra-time.
Both teams started extra-time with 14 men after Magill’s Down and Monaghan’s Jack Doogan had been black-carded. It was tense and cagey but after eight minutes Anthony Morgan found Gilmore who edged Down ahead and fellow sub Shea Croskey’s score left it 2-13 to 1-14 at the interval.
Down assistant-manager Marty Clarke roared goalkeeper Charlie Smyth (who rarely missed an opportunity to leave his goal during open play) and the Mayobridge clubman stroked over a free from the Monaghan 45-yard line.
Needing a goal, the Farneymen threw everything forward and, inevitably, were caught on the break. Sean Og McCusker raced clear and passed to Justin Clarke who palmed the ball calmly into the net. Another Smyth free sealed the deal for Down. Delight for them, disappointment for Monaghan who played their part in an epic final.
Down: C Smyth (0-2 frees); T Fettes, R Magill, P McCarthy; T Smyth (0-2), S Campbell, A Morgan (0-1); O Murdock, T Close; D Magill (0-1), S Johnston (0-2, 0-1 free), J McGovern; P McMullan (0-2), E Brown, R O’Hare (1-2)
Subs: A Gimore (1-3, 0-2 frees) for Brown (43), S Og McCusker for Fettes (2), J Clarke (1-0) for T Smyth (7), S Croskey (0-1) for McGovern (60), McGovern for Magill (74), P Brooks for McCarthy (80)
Black card: Magill (60)
Monaghan: R Farrelly; R Grimes, T McPhillips, R Boyle (0-1); D McElearney (1-1), M Hamill, S Hanratty; G McPhillips, J Wilson; D Treanor, J Irwin (0-2), M Meehan; S Slevin, D Swinburne (0-1), S Jones (0-8, 0-1 free)
Subs: K Connolly (0-1) for Slevin (49), J McGeown for Hamill (2), O O’Hanlon for Meehan (6), J Doogan for McPhilips (7), Irwin for Wilson (69), O O’Hanlon for Hamill (70), R Hanratty for Jones (74)
Referee: K Eannetta (Tyrone)