Ulster SFC: Down edge thriller
Ulster Senior Football Championship Semi-Final
DOWN 1-14 MONAGHAN 0-15
By Orla Bannon at the Athletic Grounds
Down pulled off the biggest upset of this year’s Football Championship so far to advance to a first Ulster Final since 2012.
The team which lost 14 straight Allianz Football League and Championship games in a two-year period before recovering in the spring, backed up a good first round win over Armagh with an incredible victory against Monaghan.
The game had pretty much everything, including a change of referee at half-time with Paddy Neilan replacing the injured David Coldrick, with Down leading by 1-13 to 0-10 midway through the second half before Monaghan rallied with five points in a row.
Donal O'Hare kicked the insurance point in the sixth minute of stoppage time to make sure of a thoroughly deserved win for Eamonn Burns' side, who now face Tyrone in the Ulster decider on July 16.
Monaghan, hot favourites to reach a fourth provincial final in five years, led 0-4 to 0-2 after 16 minutes.
Down were relying on frees by Darragh O'Hanlon to stay in contention with Monaghan playing with more conviction in the early stages.
From midway through the first half, Down exploded into life and their fans packed into the 13,396 crowd grew louder as each point sailed over.
Connaire Harrison was their main man up front kicking three points from play as Down grew in confidence with each glorious kick.
Monaghan battled with Conor McCarthy's point edging them 0-5 to 0-4 ahead in the 21st minute.
But from there, Down reeled off five points in a row in a breathless seven-minute spell.
Harrison levelled it, while Shay Millar – one of the stars of their first round win over Armagh - gave them the lead for the first time in the 23rd minute.
Harrison and another O'Hanlon free stretched their lead further before Kevin McKernan's inspirational score from the right wing put them 0-9 to 0-5 up.
Monaghan scored three of the last four points before the break to cut the deficit to 0-10 to 0-8.
Owen Duffy's fisted point stopped the rot and McManus' majestic curling left-foot point gave them a boost.
Within seven minutes of the restart, Down had tagged on 1-2 to stretch their lead out to an incredible 1-12 to 0-8 with Darragh O'Hanlon burying a penalty.
Niall Donnelly was fouled in the square by Colin Walshe and the O’Hanlon drilled it past Beggan to give real hope of a famous win.
They should have had a second goal before that when Drew Wylie was beaten in the air and Harrison swivelled to shot, but a superb diving block by Darren Hughes saved the day.
It was only temporary relief for Monaghan who were starting to force the play and turned the ball over too many times.
They were the ones making all the mistakes, with passes going astray and Down were in their faces, ready to pounce on every error.
Two O'Hanlon frees put Down clear at 1-13 to 0-10 midway through the second half but Monaghan responded like champions.
They fought for their lives and got to within a point with five points in a row in 13 minutes.
Darren Hughes and then a well-worked score finished by McManus brought them close before a magic slice with Kieran Hughes' left boot left a point between them with four minutes still to play.
That's the way it stayed as the game headed into six minutes injury-time.
Jack McCarron missed a late chance to equalise with a free and Down broke down the field with unmarked substitute Donal O'Hare making sure of a shock result.
*Scorers for Down: *Darragh O'Hanlon 1-5 (1-0 pen, 5fs), Connaire Harrison 0-3, Kevin McKernan 0-2, Conor Maginn 0-1, Shay Millar 0-1, Michael Cunningham 0-1 (45).
*Scorers for Monaghan: *Conor McManus 0-6 (3fs), Jack McCarron 0-3 (2fs), Conor McCarthy 0-1, Darren Hughes 0-2, Owen Duffy 0-1, Ryan Wylie 0-1, Kieran Hughes 0-1
*DOWN: *Michael Cunningham; Niall McParland, Gerard McGovern, Darren O'Hagan; Darragh O'Hanlon, Conaill McGovern, Caolan Mooney; Kevin McKernan, Niall Donnelly; Peter Turley, Conor Maginn, Shay Millar; Jerome Johnston, Connaire Harrison, Ryan Johnston
Subs: Donal O'Hare for Harrison (53), Joe Murphy for C McGovern (58), David McKibbin for Mooney (67), Aidan Carr for Turley (68), Mark Poland for R Johnston (68).
*MONAGHAN: *Rory Beggan; Fintan Kelly, Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Colin Walshe, Vinny Corey, Neil McAdam; Kieran Hughes, Karl O'Connell; Darren Hughes, Kieran Duffy, Owen Duffy; Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron, Conor McManus.
Subs: Ryan McAnespie for McAdam (41), Dessie Mone for K Duffy (47), Dessie Ward for O Duffy (47), Dermot Malone for McCarthy (57), Conor Forde for Beggan (70).
*REFEREE: *David Coldrick (Meath) – replaced at half-time by Paddy Neilan (Roscommon).