McCarron leads cool-headed Monaghan to safety
Allianz Football League Division One relegation playoff: Monaghan 1-21 Galway 2-17 (AET)
THERE might have been just 100 souls carrying out a pseudo-invasion but this felt nothing short of one of the great days for Monaghan football.
Clones has been awash with emotional scenes more than once in this generation’s shelf-life, but in terms of their ability to stay going at the top level, staying in Division One seems invaluable.
That they earned an eighth consecutive year – only Dublin and Kerry are there longer – was down to big men keeping remarkably cool heads when a frenetic game spent its final 25 minutes eternally on the point of spontaneous combustion.
Galway led from the moment Paul Kelly found the net just before the first water break until Darren Hughes squeezed home a finish almost reminiscent of David Clifford’s goal at the other end the last time St Tiernach’s Park felt this crazy.
That made it 1-15 to 2-12 five minutes into stoppage time. Galway went up and won a 45’ that Matthew Tierney pointed after taking an age to set the ball up perfectly. His fist-pumping salute to the whistling crowd was premature.
Monaghan worked the ball around and around and around, almost losing it three times, but with David Gough’s whistle to his lips, Conor McManus came on the loop, skimmed past Dylan McHugh and tested the umpire’s footwork to get beneath a shot that just crept inside.
McManus was overshadowed on the day though by a man who has been to hell and back to play for his county. Jack McCarron came on after 11 minutes and proceeded to shoot the lights out. Seven points, five from play, a series of scorchers that included the eventual winner.
There were 93 minutes and two seconds gone when he shimmied inside and dropped the ball over Conor Gleeson’s black spot after sub Tomo Culhane had gifted the ball back to Monaghan just as they looked to have missed the last chance.
It was perhaps a kinder way to settle matters than the penalty shootout that seemed inevitable.
Padraic Joyce wouldn’t have thought so. The Galway manager declined all post-match interview requests, solemnly slinking his way out having seen his team’s four-year stay at the top ended.
They looked in total command in the middle of the game. Kieran Molloy’s sumptuous pass laid Rob Finnerty in for a goal with the last kick of the first half.
That made it 2-6 to 0-9 and half-time sub Darren Hughes was barely on 30 seconds when he was black-carded for a thumping late hit on Peter Cooke.
Monaghan hung in and even narrowed the gap, though had Johnny Heaney prodded into an open goal it surely would have been very different.
The Farneymen stayed within three and Dessie Ward was having a superb game on Shane Walsh, but then got himself black-carded too for a verbal volley at referee David Gough following an innocuous incident.
Still the damage wasn’t terminal and Ward would go on to have a huge impact, most notably when Joyce removed Walsh with three minutes to play. The Ballybay man pushed on to kick two points that allowed Darren Hughes’ goal to be significant.
They were helped too by the madness of Paul Conroy’s black card, tripping Hughes by the ankle as he lay on the ball trying to delay a Monaghan sideline.
It was that sort of a game though.
Its carnage couldn’t have been better summed up than by Monaghan ‘keeper Rory Beggan going to full-forward and fouling his opposite number Gleeson.
And through a chaos that made the 200 supporters – including Banty McEnaney again – feel like thousands, Monaghan showed the value of their seven top-flight years by keeping their cool.
The goal was superb, Niall Kearns’ pass an understated piece of vision that was matched by the finish.
McManus’ equaliser was the mark of a clutch player. Even the way they worked Kieran Duffy’s score to make it 1-20 to 2-16, with Rory Beggan and Karl O’Connell refusing the shot and waiting for the gap.
Then McCarron found that unforgettable winner when Galway panicked and gave the ball away with seconds remaining.
Monaghan are no strangers to the chaos of Division One, and so they shall remain.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1 45’); R Wylie, D Ward (0-3); K Duffy (0-1); K O’Connell (0-1), C Boyle, K McMenamin; N Kearns, K Lavelle; C McCarthy, M Bannigan, R McAnespie (0-2); S O’Hanlon, A Woods, C McManus (0-4, 0-2 frees)
Subs: J McCarron (0-7, 0-2 frees) for Woods (11), D Hughes (1-1) for Bannigan (HT), F Kelly for O’Connell (46), A Mulligan for Lavelle (51), S Hanratty for Wylie (63), G Mohan for O’Hanlon (63), S Carey (0-1) for Kearns (start of ET), B McBennett for K McMenamin (start of ET), M Bannigan for McCarthy (start of ET), K O’Connell for Boyle (84), C McCarthy for Mohan (86), R Wylie for Duffy (88)
Black cards: D Hughes (36-46), D Ward (48-58)
Yellow cards: M Bannigan (34), R Wylie (40), C McManus (85)
Galway: C Gleeson; S Kelly, S Mulkerrin, J Glynn; F Ó Laoi; L Silke, D McHugh, K Molloy (0-1); P Conroy, M Tierney (0-2, 0-1 45’, 0-1 mark); E Brannigan (0-1), P Cooke, P Kelly (1-1); R Finnerty (1-3, 0-1 mark), S Walsh (0-7, 0-6 frees)
Subs: J Heaney for Brannigan (30), J Duane (0-1) for Glynn (HT), C Sweeney (0-1) for Molloy (51), D Conneelly for P Kelly (51), G O’Donnell for Ó Laoi (63), M Ó Bairéad for Walsh (68), T Culhane for Finnerty (68), S Walsh for Culhane (start of ET), R Finnerty for Heaney (start of ET), K Molloy for Silke (83), T Culhane for Finnerty (87), F Ó Laoi for Cooke (87)
Black card: P Conroy (70-77)
Yellow cards: P Cooke (2), J Heaney (45), S Mulkerrin (85)
Referee: D Gough (Meath)