'I feel there’s another level': Farney pull it from the fire again as McCarthy stunner edges out Kildare

Conor McCarthy screams in celebration after firing over Monaghan's winning score against Kildare in Saturday night's All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final. Picture by INPHO
Conor McCarthy screams in celebration after firing over Monaghan's winning score against Kildare in Saturday night's All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final. Picture by INPHO Conor McCarthy screams in celebration after firing over Monaghan's winning score against Kildare in Saturday night's All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final. Picture by INPHO

All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final: Kildare 0-13 Monaghan 1-11

CASTLEBAR, Omagh, Celtic Park – now Tullamore can be added to the list of Monaghan late, late shows after Conor McCarthy’s breathtaking 75th minute score broke Kildare hearts and sent the Farneymen into Monday’s All-Ireland quarter-final draw.

None of Armagh, Dublin or Kerry would have been left shaking in their boots, no matter which county came out of a defensive, often error-strewn encounter where an underlying edginess somehow captured the essence of topsy-turvy years for both counties.

Still, the Lilywhites must have pulled out of their home from home at O’Connor Park wondering just how it is Monaghan, and not them, whose campaign carries on for another weekend.

Twice Rory Beggan pulled off brilliant saves just as the net was about to ripple, the crossbar at the Ardan Road end is still shaking from Neil Flynn’s second half rasper, while Daniel Flynn will have nightmares about his shot seconds later that drifted inches outside the post.

Creating four goal chances, and converting none, is hard to stomach at this level. Glenn Ryan knows that as well as anyone, though the Kildare boss felt referee Jerome Henry had a significant say in his side bowing out of the Championship.

“Our job is to try and prepare the team and get them out on the pitch for the lads to try and do the best that they can - it’s other people’s jobs to make sure they get decisions right as to who officiates these games,” he said.

“Funny enough someone said to me this week that this man is out of his depth - and he proved tonight that he was out of his depth.

“I can’t understand in a big game like that, you have a top class official like David Gough doing the line, who was equally scratching his head on the line with me on occasions.

“But we had opportunities to win the game and we didn’t take them.”

That’s the frustration that will eat away at the Lilywhites through the winter.

Yet when there’s a game to be won, or a cause to be salvaged, Monaghan have shown time and again they have the men to do it.

This was epitomised by the pig-headed determination of 35-year-old Karl O’Connell in the dying seconds of added time when, after starting off second favourite in a foot-race with Kildare’s Kevin O’Callaghan – over a decade his junior – it was the Tyholland man who dived on the loose ball to rescue possession.

Earlier, when the Farney hadn’t scored in over 20 minutes either side of half-time, and with Kildare eking out three points’ worth of daylight in a game where the margins would always be razor-thin, it was 36-year-old Darren Hughes who arrested the slide.

Drifting out from his temporary full-forward station, Hughes collected a Shane Carey pass before coolly converting a crucial mark to get Monaghan back moving - the swing in momentum crystallised when Jack McCarron swept effortlessly over from beneath the stand minutes after those Neil and Daniel Flynn goal chances were passed up.

Having watched the county minors topple Kerry in the curtain-raiser, securing a first All-Ireland final appearance in 84 years, the Farney followers upped the volume as the grind stepped up down the straight.

Extra-time still looked a sure thing as Monaghan worked the ball over and across after O’Connell’s gutsy intervention, but when a sliver of a gap opened up, McCarthy raced onto a fist pass from sub Sean Jones before splitting the posts with the outside of his left boot.

He roared, he jumped, then he bolted back at breakneck speed.

“I didn’t know if it was the last play or not,” smiled the Scotstown man, “probably adrenaline took me back.”

Restoring McCarthy to the wing-back role occupied during the latter stages of Seamus McEnaney’s tenure has proved a major plus in recent months, and it was the 27-year-old speedster who burst through to grab Monaghan’s first half goal just five minutes in.

Yet, for all the cheek-puffing delight and the relief written over post-match celebrations, Vinny Corey’s exasperation at elements of another patchy performance bubbled below the surface.

Kildare were determined to sit deep and clog up the middle, and for the first 50 minutes Monaghan played largely into their hands, turned over time and again, with Lilywhite forwards Ben McCormack, Neil Flynn, Alex Beirne and Darragh Kirwan punishing them on the counter.

Division One survival and a returning to the All-Ireland quarter-final stage for the first time since 2018 represents a job well done in his first year at the helm, but the former Farney stalwart knows such consistent inconsistency won’t wash against whoever comes out of the hat next.

“I’m happy that we showed a bit of character to get out of a game like that there,” he said.

“I don’t think we played as well as we thought we were going to play, or we wanted to play… I feel there’s another level. We’ve played well enough in patches in games, sometimes it’s been enough, sometimes it hasn’t been enough and first halves have killed us in games.

“Some of it’s understandable because when you’re used to a team playing so long together, certain players set the tone in games, and we’ve lost a lot of them over the last five years.

“Some of the boys we have to do that, we’re keeping on the bench, some of the new boys have to learn to do that. We have to be patient with them - it takes time.

“I wasn’t happy with that performance. I was happy we dug it out, but I wasn’t happy with that performance.”

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, free); C Boyle, K Lavelle, K Duffy; R O'Toole, K O'Connell, C McCarthy (1-2); G Mohan (0-1, mark), D Hughes (0-1, mark); M Bannigan (0-3, 0-2 frees), D Ward, S O'Hanlon, R McAnespie; K Gallagher, J McCarron (0-3, 0-1 free).

Subs: S Carey for McAnespie (33), C McManus for Gallagher (HT), R Wylie for O'Toole (59), K Hughes for Ward (67), S Jones for Carey (70+1)

Yellow cards: C McManus (43), S Carey (60)

Kildare: M Donnellan; M O'Grady, E Doyle, S Ryan; D Hyland, K Flynn (0-1), J Sargent; K O'Callaghan, K Feely; P McDermott, A Beirne (0-2), B McCormack (0-4, 0-1 mark); D Kirwan (0-1), D Flynn, N Flynn (0-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45). Subs: J Robinson for McCormack (43), D Malone for Hyland (66), P Cribbin for D Flynn (70), J Hyland for Flynn (70+4)

Yellow cards: M O’Grady (28), N Flynn (70+1)

Referee: J Henry (Mayo)

Att: 7,893