Kevin Madden: Tyrone brought their shooting boots to Croke Park and snuffed out Monaghan's dangermen
If ever we got an example of how the role of the modern day goalkeeper has evolved then Saturday's Ulster final was it.
Rory Beggan contesting kickouts then chasing 70 yards to make a last ditch tackle on Mattie Donnelly.
Pinging frees from 55 metres and hitting shots from play. Not to forget a first half meltdown. Niall Morgan giving his opposite number a headache by taking up a zone on his kickouts. At one stage in the second half, the Tyrone goalie was in corner-forward for a Beggan restart tackling like a mad man.
I can only begin to imagine the sight of Fergal Logan and co bouncing around their living rooms like men possessed at the very sight. The numbers on the jerseys were irrelevant. Crazy stuff but brilliant all the same.
I felt going into this game the goalkeepers would have a big say but for all Beggan's brilliance in the second half, Morgan had a steadier day all round from his restarts.
The Monaghan keeper had a really shaky first half, where a combination of a lack of movement and an aggressive Tyrone press left him scratching his head for options.
At one stage he lost three consecutive kick-outs but in fairness showed incredible nerve to redeem himself in the second period. It must also be said, that Tyrone made a conscious decision to dip off his kickouts slightly in the second half, which gave the Farneymen handier possession than they were afforded in the first half.
As much as Monaghan fought their way back, it must also be said that Tyrone played the ‘cautious card' a little too early and some sloppy play near the end almost cost them, when they had the chances to kill the game. But in difficult conditions and on a day of very fine margins, let's look at where the scales were tipped in this enthralling Ulster final. Monaghan had 43 attacks to Tyrone's 42 (an attack is a play that crosses into the opposition defensive 45) and both teams had 22 shots from play each, so in terms of possession and scoring chances, there was nothing to separate the sides.
When you dissect this game, it is easy to conclude, it was a day when a five-point lead at half-time was going to be a massive cushion. Purple patches cannot last infinitely. With little to separate these sides in the end, and Tyrone hanging on by their fingernails, Monaghan had left that bit too much to do. But when you try to put your finger on the one big difference between the sides, then for me, it's very simple.
Shooting efficiency from play and the scoring end of the pitch. Tyrone converted points in the first half from outside the usual scoring zone.
As Monaghan sat off, Padraig Hampsey, Mark Bradley and Kieran McGeary didn't pass up the opportunity to score from 45-plus yards. Incredibly if you take Michael McKernan's fisted effort out of it, Tyrone scored nine points from their first nine shots. Mark Bradley, Darren McCurry, Mattie Donnelly, Niall Sludden and McKernan were all clinical. At the other end, Tyrone were quicker to press the man on the ball and much more aggressive and deliberate in the tackle.
Out of the seven chances Monaghan missed in the first half, five came from almost the identical position just to the right of the Tyrone goal and they all tailed wide to the left. Conor McManus missed two chances that he would normally convert with his eyes closed. McCarron, McAnespie, O'Hanlon and Boyle missed those other relatively straightforward opportunities. That was the difference and the the reason why they trailed by five at the break. Towards the end of the game with just a point between the sides, Monaghan were crying out for a Conor McManus or Jack McCarron to be on the end of a move but on two critical occasions they instead got wild shots from Dessie Ward and Colin Walshe. McManus almost always delivers in those ‘clutch' moments when his team need him to step up. But with just over a minute left on the clock, and Monaghan on the attack for the equaliser, Hampsey somehow got a hand in to spill the ball away that had been kicked into McManus. It must be said, Hampsey did a brilliant man marking job on McManus.
To keep the Monaghan sharp shooter to a single point from play and manage to get one of his own was massive. Monaghan battled their way back and the positioning of Colin Walshe on the square gave them more of a focal point to their attack and at the same time kept Michael McKernan pinned back.
Having pulled it back to two points after only eight minutes of the second half, Monaghan will rue the moment that Kieran Duffy got blown for over-carrying. Conor McCarthy had made that cut and back door run that I had spoken about during the week, but David Gough harshly blew Duffy for overcarrying when a goal looked like a strong possibility.
When the scores had all dried up for Tyrone, there were two big moments of pure individual class from Peter Harte and Darren McCurry that temporarily broke the Monaghan momentum and tipped the scales in their favour again. The score that McCurry made off a mark after Conor McKenna had taken an aimless shot was some ball to win. The Harte point was another display of composure and class as he used the player on the loop as the decoy to fool the defender and then buy himself the time to cut onto his right foot.
Having had the privilege of working with the Tyrone lads last year, I was personally delighted to see all their hard work finally get rewarded, particularly given the trying circumstances of this past week. Commiserations to a gallant Monaghan who have shown tremendous courage and dignity in the most tragic of circumstances over this last fortnight.