Steven McDonnell: Two forwards stood up when it mattered for their counties
AS far as final days go in the Allianz Football League, that was exciting to say the least.
Division One, in particular, had numerous possible outcomes as the clocks ticked away in the respective games that nothing could have been taken for granted.
At one point, Tyrone and Monaghan were both destined for the drop to Division Two, but strong finishes from both sides meant that they survived in their quest to retain top flight status.
Credit must be given to the pair of them as they had a task and a half on their hands to overcome Kerry and Dublin respectively.
Two of the main reasons why Tyrone and Monaghan gained impressive victories at the weekend was because of the individual brilliance of Darren McCurry and Jack McCarron.
If they can rave about David Clifford down south, then we are entitled to do the exact same up here when Ulster players perform at those high levels.
Darren McCurry scored 1-7 against the meanest defence (Pat Spillane’s words) in the division and when he is in the form to put in displays like that, there is very little any defender can do because he has developed into a top bracket forward over the last number of years.
Top players have the ability to perform at their best when the stakes are at the highest and I can’t remember a time in the last couple of seasons that Darren has not stood up to the task.
In Clones, Jack McCarron put on a display that would have been worthy of the entry fee alone. Dublin defenders, with multiple All-Ireland medals to their names, simply could not contain him.
His movement and creative awareness were exceptional. In fact, for any young player looking to learn a thing or two, they should watch how he always made himself available and was continually able to create a gap between himself and his marker.
This does not happen by accident, but when an inside forward makes himself so readily available for the ball, it makes life a lot easier for his team-mates out the field to deliver that pass inside.
The impact that intelligent movement can have, particularly in a forward’s game, can improve a player’s overall game massively and making one-off runs in straight lines is not how the top forwards do it.
Jack played this game with a swagger and the confidence just oozed out of him. The audacity to lob Michael Shiel for Monaghan’s third goal was just simply a touch of class. It is going to take something special to beat this for goal of the season.
Dublin came back at Monaghan, as you would have expected, and drew level with a 70th minute penalty.
Momentum at this point swung in Dublin’s favour but Monaghan won the critical kick-out in the last minute of injury time and drove forward to earn a free.
At this point, Conor McManus was on the field so he could easily have taken the free as he has been their go-to man for so long.
On top of that, Rory Beggan slots these types of frees over the bar for fun and at such ease. McCarron deserved to have the final say though. With the added pressure of it being a central free, and it being a must-make kick to what he hoped would keep his county in the top division, he accepted the challenge and stood up with great confidence to send the ball over the bar.
He could have easily passed the responsibility onto Conor or Rory, but there was no way he was ever going to do that.
I like to see a player stand up with this type of courage, and on a day when Monaghan needed Jack McCarron to put his chest out and perform, he did exactly what was required of him.
Dublin and Kildare have now been relegated and for the first time ever in Division One there will be no Leinster representation for the 2023 League campaign.
On the flip side, the four Ulster counties consolidated their spots and we are now just a couple of weeks away from the preliminary round in the provincial championship between Fermanagh and Tyrone.
With the dominant teams in the province over the last decade, Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan, all picking up impressive victories and confidence boosters before the start of the Championship, the chasing pack know that they have to raise their levels even higher if they are to stand a chance.
Armagh, Derry and Cavan will certainly believe they have a chance, though. Therein lies the beauty of the Ulster Championship.