One man’s feast is another man’s famine, and so it proved at Clones on Sunday as Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan proved they had more hunger for the Ulster title than All-Ireland champions Donegal.
O’Rourke’s side didn’t just inflict a first ever Ulster championship defeat on Donegal boss Jim McGuinness, they also shattered the belief that this Tir Chonaill side is invincible.
Make no mistake, Monaghan deserved every inch of their 0-13 to 0-7 win over the 2012 Ulster and All-Ireland champions.
Playing on home soil and in front of a sell-out crowd, they were out of the traps like greyhounds and well on their way to victory when they led by five points before Colm McFadden finally opened Donegal’s account in the 32nd minute.
As more than one observer noted, Donegal were out Donegal-ed by Monaghan if that’s possible.
First to every ball, dominated in the central third of the field and sharper in front of goal, Monaghan were never headed in a game beyond their wildest dreams.
They were three points ahead, 0-5 to 0-2, at the interval and six clear at the finish as they condemned Donegal to a qualifier date with Laois in Carrick-on-Shannon this Saturday.
And manager O’Rourke admitted belief and willpower, when no-one else believed in them, was a huge factor for his team.
A delighted O’Rourke told reporters afterwards, “We were written off and you’re bound to get a bit of energy out of that but we could understand why it was because Donegal have been brilliant in the championship over the last number of years.
“And we didn’t play all that well but I knew there was a big performance in the boys and I told them that. People were judging us on the performances against Antrim and Cavan and we weren’t judging ourselves on those performances.
“We knew there was more to come and luckily enough that’s what happened today.”
The blistering start to the game – they were four points up after just seven minutes – was all part of the Monaghan plan according to O’Rourke.
He added, “We felt we had to make a good start. Donegal hadn’t been behind in many of their matches, but if they had to chase the game from the off, we knew we could make life hard for them.”
Monaghan’s first Ulster title win since 1988 will be celebrated for a long time to come by their fans, but star man Conor McManus is adamant there is more to come for the Farney men on the field of play this summer.
“We knew we had the players. We knew we had the talent in that dressing room, that’s as good a squad as there is anywhere in Ireland I believe,” McManus said.
“We knew we had that ability and we went out and delivered. We worked hard. From the start of the year every man worked hard, there were no excuses and we delivered. This is as good as it gets so far but we’re not finished yet.”
While Monaghan await the identity of their next opponents in the All-Ireland quarterfinals, Donegal must get straight back to work for Saturday’s qualifier against Laois.
Still shocked by the defeat, captain Michael Murphy insisted the All-Ireland champions will bounce back in Carrick-on-Shannon.
He told the Irish Sun, “What happened happened and it’s history. It is all about regrouping for us now. We win together and we lose together and we’ll take this on the chin. We’ve come a hell of a long way in the last three years, and we’re not about to stop now.”
Manager McGuinness acknowledged that Monaghan wanted to win the Ulster title more than his All-Ireland winners.
“The competition is over for us now and we’ve got to refocus our energy for next week, and that’s what is ahead of us. Monaghan had beaten Donegal twice in the last six years and we knew the threat they were bringing,” he said.
“Monaghan were the better team overall, they were the hungrier team and were more clinical up front when they got the chances.
“We weren’t our usual self. I suppose we have to look at that in terms of our own performance, it’s probably a wee bit early at this stage to say why.”
Donegal must play again on Saturday when Mark McHugh, concussed in the early stages of Sunday’s defeat, is unlikely to feature.
McGuinness added, “The bottom line is we have six days. That’s the rules that govern the competition. There is no point crying about it.”
McGeeney Future in Doubt
KIERAN McGeeney may be forced out of his position as Kildare manager after Saturday night’s 1-11 to 0-12 defeat to Tyrone in the qualifiers, but he won’t leave without a fight.
The former Armagh player is under real pressure for the first time in his six-year tenure, and he fired a broadside at the critics in a post match interview with local radio station, KFM.
McGeeney said, “You just have to keep going. There are people out there who will tear you apart. I played with a few of these boys and these fellas were cowards when they were playing and they are cowards now when they tear these fellas apart.