Monaghan secure deserved draw away to Derry in Celtic Park
Sam Maguire Cup Group 4, round 1: Derry 0-14 Monaghan 0-14
MONAGHAN may have started with some younger players but it still took one of their men aged closer to 40 than 30 to save them at the finish.
The 35-year-old Karl O’Connell was on from first throw in to last kick, which he sent over the bar to secure a draw and seal his ‘man of the match’ performance – despite nine points from Derry star Shane McGuigan.
Once again Derry’s stand-out performer, the full-forward from Slaughtneil looked like he’d capped off a grinding comeback from the hosts with his ninth score of the evening, their fourth in a row, only for Tyholland man O’Connell to rescue a deserved draw in the sixth minute of five minutes of added time.
New Oak Leaf boss Ciaran Meenagh’s head was – understandably – so fried by the frenetic finish that he appeared to forget last year’s Ulster Final meeting when discussing recent clashes with their next opponents, Donegal.
Monaghan might have felt equally as discombobulated, given that they seemed to have this match won, then lost, before drawing it at the death.
However, what’s beyond doubt or dispute is that the men in white and blue restored pride and belief and will host Clare with confidence next weekend before heading to a neutral venue showdown with old rivals Donegal.
Farney County boss Vinny Corey had unsurprisingly freshened up his side after being outplayed and knocked out of Ulster by the Oak Leafers a month earlier, beaten by 1-21 to 2-10.
Out went 36-year-old Darren Hughes, 35-year-old Conor McManus, and the injury-prone Jack McCarron, replaced by Gary Mohan, Shane Carey, and Ryan McAnespie.
That trio of starters all made their mark – but the other three were on the pitch as the visitors deservedly rescued a draw from a game in which they were ahead far longer than they were behind, including for the bulk of the second half.
Derry’s most significant change since that previous meeting in Omagh was that of manager, with Ciaran Meenagh stepping up to replace Rory Gallagher.
The Tyrone native made just one personnel alteration from the dramatic Ulster Final triumph over Armagh on penalties, handing a first start to Ciaran McFaul, replacing Benny Heron in the named line-up.
The Maghera man began brightly, kicking the game’s opening score, but his overall influence was far less than that of the incomers for Monaghan.
Mohan, although deployed at midfield initially, with Karl Gallagher up front, soon levelled matters, while Carey got a point in both halves.
However, it was the relentless running of McAnespie that impressed most, not least for driving Padraig McGrogan back so much that he was eventually replaced.
The Emyvale man epitomised a much better attitude from Monaghan, who were clearly determined not to be brushed aside again by Derry. The home crowd bayed regularly at the decisions of referee Noel Mooney, who definitely allowed plenty of leeway for physicality.
Still, in the opening quarter it was a case of Derry going ahead and then Monaghan pegging them back, with the sense that the Ulster champions would pull away, especially as their visitors were committing more fouls.
Ryan O’Toole was handed the testing role of McGuigan’s marker and restricted him to two points from play, although the Slaughtneil clubman still covered a huge amount of Celtic Park and remained his team’s creative hub.
However, other Derry men were wasteful with their shooting, and two fine scores in as many minutes, from Conor McCarthy and Micheal Bannigan, put Monaghan ahead for the first time in the 25th minute, 0-5 to 0-4.
It would have surprised almost everyone in attendance but the visitors would not be in arrears again until injury time of the second half.
Although Niall Toner got in close to goal before opting to fist a levelling score, Monaghan went in ahead at half-time as McCarthy sent over their first score from a free, to lead 0-7 to 0-6.
Monaghan continued to keep their noses in front with some excellent scores, including from Conors Boyle and McCarthy, but the game seemed set to turn in Derry’s favour 10 minutes after the re-start once Mohan was sin-binned for cleaving McKinless.
Instead, although the closing stages of matches always attract more attention, the ‘not-losing’ rather than the winning of this match came in Monaghan’s response to going a man down.
The effort, the resilience, the attitude of proving doubters wrong typified what the Farneymen at their best have been famed for over the past decade.
McGuigan, of course, converted the subsequent free following Mohan’s black card, to leave Derry just a point behind, 0-8 to 0-9 – but Monaghan then outscored them 3-1 despite being that man short.
Goalkeeper Rory Beggan struck a trademark long range free from the left wing during that spell and added an even better ‘45’ from right out on the right flank with just over an hour played – but then their scoring stopped.
The energy expended had taken took its toll, and Derry, with the home crowd belatedly finding their voices, roared back at their opponents, dragging themselves back into contention.
McGuigan span to score from play, then put over a free when McKinless was fouled, following substitute Heron getting his finger-tips to intercept a kick-out from Beggan.
Into added time, a patient period of Derry possession then concluded with Ethan Doherty scoring a lovely point to equalise, for the seventh time overall but the first time since late in the first half.
O’Toole, the late goalscoring hero in the Ulster quarter-final against Tyrone, this time sliced a chance wide from a similar position, and that could have been very costly as McGuigan’s 73rd minute free put Derry in front for the first time in more than 50 minutes of play.
However, O’Toole redeemed his early miss at the last, gathering possession and finding O’Connell, who lined up his shot and secured a share of spoils for a heroic Monaghan side.
So no glory of victory for either side but plenty of guts as they slugged themselves to a standstill – but on this showing, both will progress to the knockout stages.
Derry: O Lynch; C McKaigue, E McEvoy, C McCluskey; C Doherty, G McKinless, P McGrogan; C Glass, B Rogers; N Toner (0-2, 0-1 free), Paul Cassidy, E Doherty (0-1); C McFaul (0-1), S McGuigan (0-9, 0-7 frees), N Loughlin.
Substitutes: B Heron for Toner (55); L Murray (0-1) for Loughlin (57); Padraig Cassidy for McGrogan (59).
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45); R O'Toole, K Duffy (capt.), R Wylie; K O'Connell (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), C McCarthy (0-3, 0-1 free); K Gallagher, K Lavelle; S O'Hanlon, M Bannigan (0-3, 0-1 free), D Ward (0-1); S Carey (0-2), G Mohan (0-1), R McAnespie.
Substitutes: D Hughes for Mohan (62); D McAlearney for Carey (64); K Hughes for Lavelle (69); J McCarron for Gallagher (69); C McManus for Ward (74).
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan).