GAA Football

Weakened Tyrone just manage to hold off Monaghan comeback for sweet 16

Tyrone celebrate after pipping Monaghan to the Ulster SFC title.
Pic Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer at Croke Park

2021 Ulster SFC Final: Tyrone 0-16 Monaghan 0-15

AS a squadron of seagulls swirled and swooped around the stadium on the hour mark, the question was whether the final ending would be Hitchcockian drama or Cantona-esque craziness.

It was almost both, with two other mostly white figures contributing to the mayhem on the pitch - yet perhaps the most unbelievable aspect was that not a single goal came despite both goalkeepers regularly abandoning their posts, indeed their own halves.

Monaghan's Rory Beggan somehow recovered to deny Mattie Donnelly what surely would have been a crucial goal in the 69th minute, racing back to rob him of possession as he bore down on the unguarded net.

The next minute Tyrone's Niall Morgan delayed over a kick-out, leading to a hop ball - and even though his side won that, he then had to claim a high dropping effort from Monaghan sub Colin Walshe moments later.

Yet the Red Hands were not to be denied victory, just about hanging on to the lead they'd carved out in the first half but which Monaghan had battered away at after the teams turned around.

At the long whistle the stadium clock stopped short of the minimum of three added minutes which had been announced - but only because it hadn't been re-started on time after the second water break.

A final which included the rarities of several Conor McManus misses and Beggan kicking the ball straight out.

And that's all before mentioning the impact of Covid…

Tyrone were deprived of joint-manager Feargal Logan and four players, but still showed remarkable resilience to edge to victory.

First Rory Brennan and Frank Burns were ruled out, then Tiernan McCann and Richie Donnelly were late withdrawals, the former having been named in a re-shaped team. Instead Mark Bradley came into the side, along with Conor McKenna, who had impressed off the bench against Donegal.

Monaghan were unchanged from the side that started their semi-final against Armagh - but were strangely different too, and will rue their lack of intensity before half-time.

The game was gripping rather than thrilling, but it held you enthralled from start to finish.

Indeed the start and finish were what most expected, tight and tense, score cancelling score, little or nothing to separate these well-matched teams.

The middle sections were the surprise, the second and third quarters, with Tyrone dominating up to half-time, then Monaghan roaring back after that to set up the nerve-jangling finale.

Those scoring graphs meant the sides were level only four times - the first three of those came from the outset, Tyrone thrice pegged back by Monaghan, setting the overall pattern for the match.

Yet there wasn't parity again until the 50th minute, when Jack McCarron's converted mark made it six scores out of seven for Monaghan from the start of the second half. The fact that they needed such a dominant burst indicated that what went on after the initial tit-for-tat contributed largely to Tyrone's victory.

Red Hand skipper Padraig Hampsey led by example, taking a break from his man-marking of Monaghan star Conor McManus to drive over a beauty off the outside of his right boot, the beginning of Tyrone outscoring Monaghan by eight points to three up until half-time.

Crucially, that matched McManus's tally from play, and although McCarron and Conor McCarthy were finding some space away from their markers to take scores, the main man 'Mansy' was unusually wayward by his phenomenal standards. Misses from Conor Boyle and Karl O'Connell didn't help either, while Tyrone vice-captain Kieran McGeary also made some terrific tackles.

In contrast, Tyrone got something out of almost all their first half attacks, even if Morgan was off target with a couple of '45s'.

Some of their scores were superb, all from play except an early Donnelly free, including Mattie selling Boyle a huge dummy before pointing and Darren McCurry delivering off his less-favoured right foot.

That score gave Tyrone a handsome half-time lead, 0-11 to 0-6, and it seemed that their hoodoo over their neighbours at Croke Park would comfortably continue, as well as their winning streak in Ulster deciders since the 2005 replay.

Significant changes were required for Monaghan and they came in both personnel and personality. Seamus McEnaney sent on former captain Walshe and Niall Kearns for the below-par O'Connell and Hughes but the whole team appeared transformed.

From seeming stand-offish, Monaghan began biting into challenges, giving their all.

Their altered attitude was exemplified in the 40th minute. First, following a long kick-pass from Beggan, McCarron forced Michael McKernan into conceding a 45. When Beggan's attempt struck the left-hand upright, Micheal Bannigan seized on the rebound - and shot against the same piece of woodwork. Undeterred, Stephen O'Hanlon snapped up the loose ball and was fouled, with McManus putting the free over.

Walshe, deployed in attack, took and scored a mark. Beggan strode forward again, only to miss narrowly, but Monaghan kept coming. Another turnover of possession, another mark scored, this time by McCarron.

Twelve points apiece.

A dozen senior championship victories against each other too. At that stage, gamblers would have bet on Monaghan getting their 13th, having won the last two meetings in Ulster.

They almost got in for a goal, but Walshe's pass to McCarthy wasn't good and it was scrambled away.

Tyrone's response won them the Anglo-Celt Cup instead.

Off the bench, Cathal McShane didn't begin well, but then clipped a cool point.

Amid that 'Birds' style influx of seagulls, Ronan McNamee pushed forward and found Peter Harte to score.

Then Donnelly was fouled as he shot on the run, and McCurry opened up a three-point gap from the free.

There was much more to come, including Monaghan defenders Boyle and Kieran Duffy reducing the gap to the minimum margin.

Then, in the 66th minute, McCurry soared to take and convert a mark which, incredibly, proved to be the winning score.

A McManus free soon made it a one-point game, the goalkeepers contributed largely to the unpredictable happenings, but Monaghan simply could not find a leveller as their opponents played keep-ball, could not stop Tyrone pulling alongside them on the provincial roll of honour at 16 senior titles apiece.

So once again the Red Hands denied the Farneymen an All-Ireland semi-final place, having done so in both 2013 and 2015 when the latter were Ulster champions.

Tyrone carry that title now, albeit into the daunting challenge of facing free-flowing Kerry.

Monaghan are rightly renowned for their gutsiness, their refusal to give up, but Tyrone more than matched them in those regards and had that little bit more scoring power.

The Kingdom will be favourites for glory, but the Red Hand spirit means the final script isn't completed yet.

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-1), R McNamee, P Hampsey (capt.) (0-1); N Sludden (0-1), M O'Neill, P Harte (0-1); B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary (0-1), M Bradley (0-2), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark), M Donnelly (0-3, 0-1 free), C McKenna.

Substitutes: N Kelly for O'Neill (17); C McShane (0-1) for Kennedy, (46); D Canavan for Kilpatrick (55); R O'Neill for Bradley (66).

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

Substitutes: S Carey for Mulligan (31); C Walshe (0-1 mark) for O'Connell (h-t); N Kearns for D Hughes (h-t); K Hughes for O'Hanlon (55); A Woods for McCarthy (63).

Referee: David Gough (Meath).

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