Ulster GAA Football Championship Semi-Final:
Down 1-14 Monaghan 1-13
Down produced a stunning comeback to overhaul a nine-point deficit against Monaghan at the Morgan Athletic Grounds on Sunday and progress to the Ulster final.
Just after Down got to within one midway through the second half, a Tommy Freeman goal looked set to give Monaghan the win, but Down produced an epic final ten minutes to snatch victory, with Aidan Carr levelling for them with a brilliant free from distance, before Darren O’Hagan fisted the winner in injury-time.
Monaghan had been nine ahead after 34 minutes, but a Carr penalty just before the break gave Down hope, which they capitalised on in the second half with their brilliant comeback.
That said, Monaghan seemed in total control at half-time after a superb performance which overwhelmed a very lethargic Down.
The Farney County were 0-3 to 0-0 up after a few minutes, Darren Hughes and Paul Finlay showing they were more than recovered from recent injury problems by hitting fine early points, Finlay’s in particular an outstanding effort from way out on the right.
However, it was Conor McManus who was Monaghan’s most potent attacker in the opening period, and he complemented his intense workrate and superb ball-winning with five points in the first half, two of them from play.
He hit two quick points to put Monaghan four clear, and then two Finlay frees extended the lead to six. Donal O’Hare popped over a free for Down after 23 minutes, and along with an early Ambrose Rogers free, was all Down had on the board.
Monaghan’s dominance increased as the half went on, and points from McManus, Finlay and Dick Clerkin put them nine ahead. Eamonn McEneaney’s men were fully deserving of this lead but just before the whistle, Down got their penalty chance.
Conor Laverty was fouled after a superb run into the heart of the Monaghan defence, and Carr tucked the penalty into the bottom right corner to leave six between them.
Whatever happened at half-time, it completely changed the course of the game as Down emerged a different team after the restart.
They hit the first five points of the second half, and now it was Monaghan who had no answer to Down’s superior hunger and power.
Donal O’Hare got the first from a free, and then substitute Kevin Duffin finally got James McCartan’s side’s first score from play after 44 minutes. Another O’Hare free followed shortly, and then two excellent points from the dynamic Laverty put just one between them with 20 minutes to go.
Monaghan brought on Tommy Freeman to try to halt Down’s march, and he delivered in spectacular style on 58 minutes. McManus took a quick free and found Freeman, who took advantage of Down’s sleepiness to race in and fire to the net past Brendan McVeigh.
That put Monaghan four ahead again, but Down owned the final ten minutes, and after frees from O’Hare and Liam Doyle, and an inspirational score from Benny Coulter seconds after coming on, up popped Carr and O’Hagan to make themselves heroes.
Dick Clerkin had a late chance to level for Monaghan, but he screwed it wide.
Scorers for Down: A Carr 1-2 (1 pen, 0-1 f), D O’Hare 0-5 (5f), C Laverty 0-2, A Rogers 0-1 (1f), K Duffin 0-1, B Coulter 0-1, L Doyle 0-1 (1f), D O’Hagan 0-1
Scorers for Monaghan: C McManus 0-5 (3f), P Finlay 0-5 (3f), T Freeman 1-0, D Hughes 0-2 (1f, 1 45′), D Clerkin 0-1
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, G McCartan; D O’Hagan, K McKernan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Poland, A Carr; D O’Hare, C Laverty, E McCartan.
Subs: K Duffin for D McCartan (21), L Doyle for K Duffin (62), B Coulter for D O’Hare (66)
Monaghan: M Keogh; D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe; D Hughes, D Mone, K O’Connell; O Lennon, D Clerkin; P Dooney, S Gollogly, J Turley; K Hughes, P Finlay, C McManus.
Subs: T Freeman for K Hughes (50), K Duffy for P Dooney (52), L McAdam for J Turley (67)