Game of two halves

June 26, 2012

USFC Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13

Always liberally banded about “A game of two halves” but it was never as apt in applying it to the Ulster semi-final between Down and Monaghan. It looked as if the Morgan Athletic Ground hoodoo was once again to hit the Mournemen who failed to score from play in the first half and had no wides in the same period, can now look forward to facing either Tyrone or Donegal in their first Ulster final since 2003 on July 22, while Monaghan must pick themselves up for the second round of the All-Ireland qualifiers in two weeks’ time wondering how they managed to let this one slip from their grasp.

Trailing by nine points in first half injury-time, James McCartan’s men were given a glimmer of hope when late call-up Aidan Carr converted a penalty to leave them 1-2 to 0-11 in arrears at the short whistle. Down pushed on in the second half and had cut Monaghan’s lead to a single point before substitute Tommy Freeman scored a controversial goal to leave four between the sides again. But all Monaghan could add to that second half goal was 2 points with Down hitting a dozen points to claim the most unlikely of victories in an enthralling pulsating contest.

Down made two changes to their team with Gerard McCartan replacing the suspended Aidan Branagan and Eoin McCartan starting ahead of the injured Conor Maginn.

Monaghan made two changes in defence and two in attack with team captain Darren Hughes and Drew Wylie coming into defence and Pete Dooney and Kieran Hughes into the attack.

In a real Jekyll and Hyde performance, Down failed to score from play for three quarters of an hour and trailed at one stage by nine points; in an error ridden display typified by poor passing and worse handling, leaden leggedness and indecision Down looked gone from the Ulster Championship; only the leadership of Ambrose Rogers and the will o’ the wisp approach of Conor Laverty gave any faint hope.

Then Benny McArdle pulled off a couple of great high catches at one end, Kalum King weighed in to help Ambrose Rogers at centre field and Conor Laverty fired over a couple of inspirational scores at the other end and as belief surged through the Down players, it also deserted the Monaghan players.

But on the hour having worked so hard to reduce the deficit to the minimum, Down fell asleep at a free which was harshly awarded and the quick thinking Ciaran McManus released substitute Tommy Freeman who gave Brendan McVeigh no chance from close range, shades of Enniskillen and a lesson not learnt.

Cue Down’s own versions of the super sub with Liam Doyle and Benny Coulter sprung from the bench to a despairing and now seemingly desperate situation and of course both came up with the goods with points apiece with their first touch.

Aidan Carr stood up with a big free to level and as everyone started to think of the replay, a high ball into the Monaghan square was not dealt with and Darren O’Hagan fisted the winner.

Such an outcome was impossible to envisage earlier; after Darren Hughes had stroked over a mighty free, Paul Finlay (4) and Ciaran McManus (5) tormented Down scoring at will while Down relied on frees apiece from Ambrose Rogers and Donal O’Hare to trouble the score keeper.

Ambrose Rogers’ runs from centre field promised dividends but he ploughed a lone furrow until Conor Laverty came deep and began playing a little give and go and in the thirty fifth minute won a penalty coolly dispatched by Aidan Carr to leave Down trailing 0-11 to 1-2 at the break.

Hopes of a different Down for the restart were not realized with three early chances ballooned wide. Even after Donal O’Hare pointed a forty second minute free Down continued to waste scoring opportunities.

Another Ambrose Rogers solo led to Kevin Duffin scoring Down’s first point from play in the forty fifth minute and when Donal O’Hare converted his third free soon after Down, for all their woes, were only a kick of the ball in arrears. Within a minute Conor Laverty fired over twice from play and only a point separated the teams.

Down should have had a third penalty when Daniel Hughes was pushed to the ground with the goal gaping but the referee who did not have a good game waved play on with the ball quickly transferred up the field and Brendan McVeigh saving smartly at his near post from James Turley. Monaghan captain Darren Hughes scored the fifty for his side’s first score of the half in the fifty fifth minute.

Again Down replied to make it a one point game but then conceded that inexcusable goal. Two Donal O’Hare frees left two between them with seven minutes to play and when Finlay took his tally to five it looked like Down needed a second goal.

That’s when the team leaders stood up and in an unbelievable finish Down reached the Ulster Final.

Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Benny McArdle, Gerard McCartan; Darren O’Hagan 0-1, Kevin McKernan, Conor Garvey; Ambrose Rogers 0-1, Kalum King; Danny Hughes, Mark Poland, Aidan Carr 1-2; Donal O’Hare 0-5, Conor Laverty 0-2, Eoin McCartan.

Subs: K Duffin 0-1, B Coulter 0-1, L Doyle 0-1.

Monaghan: Mark Keogh, Drew Wylie, Vinnie Corey, Colin Walshe, Darren Hughes 0-2, Dessie Mone, Karl O’Connell, Owen Lennon, Dick Clerkin 0-1, Pete Dooney, Stephen Gollogly, James Turley, Kieran Hughes, Paul Finlay 0-5, Conor McManus 0-5.

Subs T Freeman 1-0, K Duffy, N McAdam.