GAA Football

Monaghan weather Donegal storm to win McKenna Cup but better needed for National League opener says manager McEnaney

Jack McCarron was prominent as Monaghan established a commanding lead in the first half of the Dr McKenna Cup final. Pic Philip Walsh
Andy Watters

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final: Monaghan 1-11 Donegal 0-13

From Andy Watters at O’Neill’s Healy Park

MONAGHAN weathered a second half Donegal storm to win their first Dr McKenna Cup since 2003 and bank the confidence bump that comes with good pre-season form going into the National League.

A game that boiled up to an exciting finale began with the Farneymen ruling the first half and, after an early goal from Dessie Ward, they went in at the break leading by six points. However, the introduction of Michael Murphy at half-time lit a fire in Donegal bellies and they battled back brilliantly until time ran out on them.

Glenswilly colossus Murphy kicked six points (five of them frees) to drag his county back into the game and already it seems his fitness will be central to Donegal’s prospects this year.

“Michael is an important part of the team and he is a real leader,” said manager Declan Bonner after the one-point defeat.

“He has got game-time in the last couple of matches and let’s hope it’s an injury-free year for him.”

Time-keeping was a bone of contention for the Tir Chonaill camp and so was the first half sending-off of their manager. Bonner was banished to the Healy Park stand by referee Paraic Hughes, apparently the first time he’d been sent off since the Ulster Championship quarter-final against Cavan in 1990.

“There were a number of decisions that could have gone either way,” said Bonner.

“There was a double-hop missed but some days they go for you and some days not and we’ll just look at ourselves now going into next week. The time-keeping is something that’s out of our control, it’s up to the officials and sometimes they get it wrong.”

On getting sent to the stand, he said it “may have been a misunderstanding in terms of the words that were used” and added “it was very innocuous to be honest”.

“We’ve been training hard and we’ve played a lot of games,” he said.

“We’ll take a lot out of this game, it’s been ideal preparation ahead of the National League.”

Bonner’s team is packed with tall, athletic, pacey players ideally suited to their running game but they continually overdid it in the first half. Without a focal point at full-forward, their gameplan was predictable and Monaghan funnelled back numbers to shut them down and turn them over.

In contrast, the Farneymen attacked with efficiency and end-product and Ward’s goal and points from Micheal Bannigan (0-3), Shane Carey (0-2), Andrew Woods and Jack McCarron allowed them to establish a 1-7 to 0-4 lead at the break.

Charlie McGuinness (nephew of Jim) and Ciaran Thompson got points for Donegal and Paddy McBrearty contributed a brace and was looking sharp until his influence faded as the Tir Chonaill men became hemmed into their own half.

The early stages of the second half followed the same pattern. Bannigan (0-2) and Colin Walshe extended Monaghan’s lead and a walk-in-the-park win was looking likely until Murphy, operating at full-forward, began to have an influence.

His first score ended 25 scoreless minutes for Donegal and his free and a Ryan McHugh point left it 1-10 to 0-7 at the second water-break. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of those unnecessary interruptions now and Monaghan saw very little of the ball for the remainder of the game.

The jittery Farneymen could not put two passes together and Murphy, McBrearty and Murphy again halved the deficit before a McCarron free steadied Monaghan. Only a little though and Murphy scored another, then turned provider for Thompson and then fisted another to reduce the arrears to two points.

It was all Donegal and Peadar Mogan picked up the ball just inside the Monaghan half and set off on a mazey run that took him to within striking distance of the Farney goal. He steadied himself to shoot and give Donegal the lead but Ward – with the play of the game – managed to get in a textbook near-hand tackle and flick the ball away. It broke to Niall O’Donnell but Rory Beggan denied him with his legs and despite another Murphy point, Monaghan, with substitute Gary Mohan impressing, hung on.

Their manager Seamus McEnaney has been determined to use his squad in this competition and he made eight substitutions (Conor McManus wasn’t among them) in the second half which contributed to his team’s loss of fluency.

But minutes in the legs and silverware too constitutes a good evening’s work for the Farneymen.

“Monaghan’s not in a position to turn down any silverware,” said ‘Banty’.

“To win the McKenna Cup is great, it has been a brilliant experience for us, we played 32 players throughout the competition and we’re delighted to win it. I was delighted with some of the young players coming in and the experienced players set the standards.”

Next Saturday, Monaghan return to Healy Park for their Division One opener against Tyrone. Would he swap the McKenna Cup for a point against the All-Ireland champions?

Of course he would. One competition has no bearing on the next but the form and confidence Monaghan have shown augurs well for them as they step up to the challenges ahead.

“It’s a completely different scenario here next week,” said McEnaney.

“We’re playing the All-Ireland champions on their home ground and it doesn’t get any more difficult than that. If we play like we played tonight we won’t be getting any result.”

Monaghan: R Beggan; S Hanratty, K Duffy, R Wylie; R McAnespie, C Walsh (0-1), C McCarthy; D Hughes, K Lavelle; S Carey (0-2), M Bannigan (0-5, 0-3 frees), D Ward (1-0); A Mulligan, J McCarron (0-2 frees), A Woods (0-1).

Subs: N Kearns for Lavelle (HT), D Garland for Carey (HT), K O’Connell for McCarthy (43), F Kelly for Walsh (43), C Boyle for R Wylie (54), D Wylie for Hughes (54), G Mohan for Woods (57), J Mealiff for Mulligan (70)

Yellow cards: Carey (34), D Hughes (40)

Donegal: M Lynch; C Ward, B McCole, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh (0-1), P Brennan, T McClenaghan; J McGee, C Thompson (0-1); O McFadden-Ferry, P Mogan, S O’Donnell; P McBrearty (0-3, 0-1 free), C McGuinness (0-1 free), C O’Donnell.

Subs: M Murphy (0-6, 0-5 frees) for McGuinness (HT), E O’Donnell for S O’Donnell (HT), C McGonagle for Brennan (HT), N O’Donnell for C O’Donnell (48), M Langan (0-1) for McGee (51), J McKelvey for McClenaghan (53), E Doherty for McFadden Ferry (57)

Yellow card: McFadden-Ferry (40)

Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access