Monaghan survive late burst to beat Louth
Monaghan 1-12 Louth 0-14
Monaghan's footballers handed their manager a generous bonus at Breffni Park tonight, but he had to sweat for it.
Six points ahead at one stage of their Round Three Qualifier game, they found themselves with a man extra after Nicky McDonnell was sent off 10 minutes into the second half, but had to hold on desperately for a narrow one-point win.
Seamus McEnaney set them a target at the outset of the championship campaign - to reach the last 16 in the All-Ireland title race.
But a narrow one point victory has brought them a step further down the road, even though they lived dangerously in the light of a courageous fightback from Val Andrews' side.
A Round Three Qualifier success means they have landed themselves a place in the last 12, and who knows where it might end for the flying Farney men?
It's been quite a season for McEnaney's evolving side. A Division Two NFL title triumph was just the start of it, and Monaghan have sent out a clear message that their ambition and desire could take them even further.
They made light of disciplinary problems which saw the midweek expulsion from the squad of key players Raymond Ronaghan and Gary McQuaid, to show a unity of purpose which had their colourful fans in raptures.
The Sligo referee booked no less than 14 players, eight of them from Monaghan, and flashed one yellow card during a fractious but sporting contest.
Louth made a promising start with early scores from Darren Clarke and Shane Lennon, frustrating their opponents with an energetic burst from the traps.
But once the Farney men settled, they were superior in virtually every area, squeezing the Louth attack out of the game, dominating the midfield area with ease, and picking off scores with real style.
After Tommy Freeman got their first point in the seventh minute, they reeled off 1-5 without reply to stamp their authority on the contest.
James McElroy, Eoin Lennon and Paul Finlay were winning ample possession in the central area, and up front, Dick Clerkin's power, Tommy Freeman's speed and the accuracy of Hugh McElroy proved a potent mix.
It was McElroy who palmed home a 12th minute goal after Freeman and Fergal Duffy had combined on the right, catching the Wee County's hard-pressed defence flat-footed.
Forced to concede frees, Louth were further punished by Finlay and Hugh McElroy, and with 20 minutes played, the Ulster men led by 1-5 to 0-2.
Louth's early industry had all but disappeared, but they did get back on track, having gone 20 minutes without a score, when Clarke landed another free.
They did expose fragility within the Farney defence when a long ball from Christy Grimes sparked panic, and had Shane Lennon connected, the ball would almost certainly have been in the net, but it was scrambled away for a '45', which the accurate Clarke converted.
Sligo referee Marty Duffy flashed eight yellow cards during a niggly first half, which ended with Clerkin powering through for a point, which gave his side a 1-8 to 0-5 advantage.
Louth did pull back a couple of points early in the second half, but Monaghan displayed their superior class once again when the impressive James McElroy plucked the ball majestically out of the air and put Freeman through for a wonderful score.
It was just what McEnaney's side needed to restore the confidence and self-belief that had propelled their earlier efforts.
And it got worse for Louth when midfielder Nicky McDonnell received a straight red card for aiming a kick at an opponent with just 11 minutes of the second half played.
They refused to lie down, however, and two more scores from Clarke, one of theme an excellent effort from play, narrowed the gap to six points with 15 minutes to play.
And they strung together the move of the game, with corner back Alan Page charging forward, linking with JP Rooney and Ronan Carroll, but when Rooney pulled the trigger, goalkeeper Shane Duffy responded with a superb save.
Suddenly Louth were vibrant and creative, playing with a new-found passion and drive.
Clarke converted the resultant '45', his eighth point of the game, Paddy Matthews clipped over another to narrow the gap to a manageable three, and Monaghan were under the cosh.
Duffy had to be alert to deny Rooney once again, and Clarke struck two more frees, but Monaghan held out to squeeze through.
Monaghan: S Duffy, D McArdle, J Coyle, C Flanagan, D Freeman ©, V Corey, J Conlon, F Duffy, E Lennon, J McElroy, P Finlay (0-5 (5 frees), D Clerkin (0-2), T Freeman (0-2), H McElroy (1-3 (3 frees), S Gollogly.
Subs: N Corrigan for Duffy (52 mins), D McKernan for Gollogly (66 mins), S McManus for J McElroy (69 mins)
Louth: S McCoy, A Page, B Reilly, J Carr, C Sheridan, A Hoey, S Gerard, J Kermath, P Keenan, D Clarke (0-10, 7 frees, 2 '45's), C Grimes (0-1, free), P Matthews (0-1), N McDonnell (0-1), S Lennon (0-1), JP Rooney.
Subs: R Carroll for Sheridan (16 mins), M Stanfield for Kermath (30 mins), Ollie McDonnell for Lennon (58 mins), D Devanney for Grimes (64 mins)
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo)