GAA Football

Conor McManus injury a setback after Monaghan outclass Fermanagh in Ulster Championship quarter-final

Monaghan's Conor McManus injured at the sideline near the end of the Ulster SFC Championship quarter-final against Fermanagh at St Tiernach's Park, Clones. Pic Philip Walsh
From Andy Watters in Clones

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Monaghan 1-21 Fermanagh 0-14

THE sight of Conor McManus hobbling away on crutches spoiled an otherwise excellent evening’s work for Monaghan at Clones on Saturday.

Without stealing the show, the Clontibret Allstar played his part in a team-effort 10-point success against outclassed Fermanagh. Showcasing impressive bench strength, the battle-hardened Farneymen had 12 scorers and their pace and power throughout the field was too much for an inexperienced Fermanagh side that was well beaten but did stand their ground in the second half to prevent the rout that had looked likely a one stage.

As the game petered out to a predictable conclusion, McManus was injured in a tackle and had to be helped off the field. His right thigh was heavily bandaged and iced on the sideline and he left the ground on crutches. Like Darren Hughes who was also taken off, his participation in the Ulster semi-final on July 17 is in serious doubt.

Had Monaghan emerged from Saturday injury-free they would have been looking forward to that encounter optimistically, but without McManus and Hughes they’ve gone from narrow favourites to narrow underdogs.

They’ll still take some stopping though. All six Farney forwards scored and it was the youngest, Aaron Mulligan, who registered the first point of the game.

Eoin Donnelly, operating at full-forward, had dropped Fermanagh’s fifth effort of a frenetic opening short and Monaghan broke in a well-rehearsed, trademark counterattack. Michael Bannigan passed to Mulligan and the Latton youngster applied a cool finish.

Sean Quigley held off Jonny Cooper to level but that was as close as Fermanagh got as Monaghan quickly moved up a gear with two points from McManus and another from Jack McCarron.

The home side put together sweeping passing movements and the Fermanagh tackling crumbled as Kieran Duffy joined the attack on the right wing and smashed in a shot that Sean McNally did well to block. But broad-shouldered McCarron, an imposing physical unit, was there to hammer the rebound into the net with a swing of his right fist and leave clear daylight between the neighbours.

Afterwards Fermanagh manager Ryan McMenamin admitted: “The goal was a killer.”

He added: “We talked about that all week, tracking the runners and we switched off that one time. “That’s maybe the problem sometimes if you are playing a lot of inexperienced players, they do have the habit of switching off, but hopefully we can learn from it.”

Several of the fresh-faced Fermanagh line-up were as green as their jersey at Championship level but youngsters Jonny Cassidy and Darragh McGurn both scored as the Ernemen reduced the gap to 1-5 to 0-4. Josh Largo-Ellis, full of committed running, got one too but Monaghan were in command and, despite losing Hughes in midfield, they led by double-scores, 1-11 to 0-7, at half-time.

Four of Fermanagh’s scores had come from Quigley but a comeback seemed far beyond his county. However, GAA fans being what they are, one Monaghan native predicted disaster for the Farneymen during the interval.

“Fermanagh always play well in the second half,” he said, in reference to Monaghan’s post-interval slide against Cavan in the preliminary round last year.

“They’ll get a goal and Monaghan will blow up.”

There was never any real prospect that his pessimistic prediction would come true.

Niall Kearns, on for Hughes and determined to prove a point to his manager, raced through to open the second half scoring and Karl O’Connell made it 1-14 to 0-8 without a hand being laid on him.

But Fermanagh rallied with the next three scores. Substitute Aidan Breen got the first and then, after Donnelly’s shot had been blocked by O’Connell’s desperate tackle (the Monaghan defender got away with handling the ball on the ground), Quigley converted a 45.

“One score and we’re back in it,” urged McMenamin from the touchline and his team did get it. Largo-Ellis punched a hole in the Monaghan defence and Ultan Kelm, who’d had a sniff of a goal in the first half, stroked over a fine point.

That score left six in it but it was as close as Fermanagh came and Monaghan reeled off six of the next seven points, including two from versatile Colin Walshe and one from eye-catching newcomer Killian Lavelle, to leave even the half-time sceptic in no doubt of their quality and their status as genuine Anglo-Celt contenders.

Afterwards Monaghan mentor David McCague reflected happily on his county’s first Ulster Championship victory since the 2018 win against Tyrone.

“We’re very happy to come through,” he said.

“It was a draw we were very much focused on, and to see the team win the way that they did was really satisfying.

“In the Ulster Championship you have to respect every team for every moment of that game. That’s something you always have to be conscious of and I think we paid Fermanagh that respect in terms of our preparation.

“We want to build on the momentum that winning in the first round of the Championship gives us, it’s not something we’ve experienced for a few years, so we’re hoping it’ll give us a bounce going into training on Tuesday evening.”

The youthful vigour of the likes of Lavelle, Bannigan and Mulligan has revitalised a side that looked to have peaked and McCague spoke of how the youngsters have added "an impetus" to the squad.

“It’s a good mix to have and it’ll be needed,” he said.

“Young players take risks and we’ve been encouraging them to do that, to be more adventurous on the ball and the young players have added that into our squad.”

Manager Seamus McEnaney will be back in the dugout for the semi-final against Armagh. Without McManus and Darren Hughes, Banty will know he has a job on his hands.

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1 45); K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie (0-1); K O’Connell (0-1), D Ward (0-1), R McAnespie; D Hughes, K Lavelle (0-1); S O’Hanlon, C McCarthy (0-1 mark), M Bannigan (0-1); A Mulligan (0-2), J McCarron (1-2, 0-2 frees), C McManus (0-4, 0-3 frees)

Subs: N Kearns (0-1) for D Hughes (32), C Walshe (0-2, 0-1 mark) for McCarron (50), S Carey for O’Hanlon (55), K Hughes for McCarthy (62), F Kelly for O’Connell (67), K McMenamin for Lavelle (70)

Fermanagh: S McNally; K Connor, J Cassidy (0-1), L Flanagan; D McCusker, J McMahon, K McDonnell; S McGullion, E Donnelly; C Corrigan (0-1), C McManus, J Largo-Ellis (0-1); U Kelm, D McGurn (0-1), S Quigley (0-7, 0-5 frees, 0-1 45)

Subs: A Breen (0-2) for McDonnell (26), R O’Callaghan for McGurn (41), S Cassidy for McManus (58), M McCauley for McMahon (65), T Bogue for McGullion (65)

Yellow cards: McMahon (50), Bogue (70)

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)

Attendance: 500

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