Monaghan progressed to the second round of the Bank of Ireland All-Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifiers with a narrow two-point victory over Westmeath in Clones. Monaghan looked to be home and dry after they led by 9 points to 2 at half-time, however, a spirited Westmeath second half comeback – triggered by a great goal from substitute Gary Dolan - saw the Farney men's nerves tested once again. But, unlike their jittery defeat to Down last week, Colm Coyle's charges produced just enough to go through. Vodafone Player of the Month for May Paul Finlay was the hero in the closing stages, kicking two pressure points to seal the victory.
Westmeath's challenge received a blow just before the throw-in when Fergal Wilson was injured in the warm-up. Luke Dempsey was consequently forced to make an early change, with Paul Conway the man chosen to deputise in attack. Monaghan began brilliantly with Westmeath's Fergal Murray totally unable to cope with the dashing runs of centre-forward Tomas Freeman. Freeman, who enjoyed much possession but produced poor finishing at Casement Park last week, got Monaghan's opening score after just 35 seconds, opting for a point when a goal was on. Finlay scored the second, before Freeman and midfielder Eoin Lennon added two more. Lennon and Jason Hughes were winning the early midfield battles with Dempsey's decision to switch Martin Flanagan from midfield to attack apparently not paying off. Another classy Freeman effort gave Monaghan a five point lead after just seven minutes of play.
A Flanagan line-ball kick from 30 metres out provided Westmeath with their first score of the game in the eighth minute. But Freeman replied with his fourth point of the match to restore the five point gap. Scotstown man Nicholas Corrigan pointed from 40 metres out after some fine combination play with the tricky Raymond Ronaghan. Dessie Dolan sent over a free from 14 metres out in the 22nd minute as Dempsey switched Flanagan back to his more familiar midfield berth – a straight swap with David O'Shaughnessy. Murray was substituted for Karl Henson who succeeded in curbing Freeman's influence on the game. However, another Monaghan forward, Finlay, was also punishing Westmeath at this stage. The Ballybay star converted two frees – one from 35 metres and one from 14 metres – as Coyle's men went in at the break leading by seven points.
Dempsey made one change at the break, with Gary Dolan replacing Conway, who hadn't adapted well to his unexpected start at centre forward.
Westmeath emerged rejuvenated after the interval, however, wasteful finishing, one of the main reasons for their demise against Meath, was once again to prove costly. From six early attacks they only yielded one Flanagan point. Corrigan scored another superb right-footed point – this time from 25 metres out - to make it 0-10 to 0-3 after 10 minutes of the second period.
Three points from Dessie Dolan, helped the Leinster side back into contention. However, had Flanagan, Dessie Dolan and Alan Mangan netted even two of three great goal chances in the second half, Westmeath could have led with 10 minutes remaining. Instead, Monaghan were in front - 0-12 to 0-7. In the 63rd minute, Dessie's brother, Gary, got the goal his side deserved to make the home side sweat for the remainder.
Substitute Joe Fallon added at 45 metre free to close the gap to just one. Monaghan hit back with a 20 metre free from Finlay to take the pressure off slightly on 34 minutes. But Westmeath replied with a Fallon 45 to make it a one-point game once again. However, in the 39th minute, Finlay expertly split the posts with an awkward 35 metre strike from the sideline for the final score of the game and his sixth in total. When the final whistle blew Monaghan supporters breathed a collective sigh relief as Westmeath were again left to rue their profligacy.
Filed by James Boylan.