A first half drubbing proved fatal for Monaghan as they bowed out of the Bank of Ireland All-Ireland Senior Football Championship to Meath on a 2-10 to 0-12 scoreline in Clones. Colm Coyle's charges, inspired by the excellent marksmanship and hard work of burly substitute Rory Woods, produced something of a resurgence in the second half. However, the damage had been done earlier when goals from Graham Geraghty and David Crimmins helped the Royals on their way to a devastating 2-08 to 0-02 lead at the interval.
Monaghan started with Dermot McArdle in attack after Damien Freeman failed a morning fitness test. Opting to play against the breeze, it was quickly apparent that Monaghan were out-of-sorts and unable to cope with a free-flowing, quick-thinking Royal attack. Shane McKeigue notched the first score of the game from play to give his side a lead that they would never relinquish. Trevor Giles, operating at full forward, pointed a second after Nigel Crawford had easily intercepted a sloppy John Paul Mone clearance.
Thomas Freeman collected a wonderful Jason Hughes pass to score Monaghan's first point of the match. However, any hope that the home supporters had of their team settling down was dashed when Geraghty flicked the ball to the back of the net after a speculative high ball from Shane McKeigue. Monaghan were rattled and points from Daithi Regan (free), Crimmins and McKeigue compounded their misery. It could have been worse for Monaghan had Regan, Nigel Crawford and Crimmins all made the best of other opportunities. Monaghan also had goalkeeper Glenn Murphy to thank when he improvised well to pull off a fine save from an unexpected driven shot at goal from Crimmins.
Meath's dominance wasn't merely due to their attacking flair – Monaghan forwards were constantly smothered by defenders who gave them little option but to shoot from difficult angles and lengthy distances. A rare Monaghan attack saw Hughes win a free, which Paul Finlay calmly converted. But a Michael Slowey wide, again from an unlikely scoring position, followed, as Meath reasserted their total control on the match.
In the 26th minute, Woods replaced Slowey in the half-forward line, but Monaghan's real problems were at midfield where their inability to win the breaking ball was proving disastrous. Crimmins glided through the Monaghan defence for his second point, before Freeman shot a dreadful wide from a free that had been hard-earned by Finlay.
Meath struck back when Geraghty sent over another point following a dashing run, which again exposed the frail Monaghan defence and highlighted the away team's clinical approach. After bursting through menacingly, McArdle could only shoot wide as Monaghan appeared to be utterly deflated and severely lacking a leader in any area of the park. And when, in the 34th minute, Regan flicked a Giles pass onto the on-running Crimmins to finish emphatically to the back of the net, the game was effectively over as a contest. Giles, playing at wing forward, took full advantage of a clumsy collision between two Monaghan players to leave his side in front by a whopping 12 points at the break.
Manager Sean Boylan could even afford to replace goal hero Crimmins with Richie Kealy for the second half. Kieran Tavey replaced Nicholas Corrigan in the Monaghan half-forward line, but at the resumption it looked like Meath would continue to dominate. Captain Dermot Duffy was crowded out by the vulture-like Meath midfield, but luckily for him Shane McKeigue wasted the resulting possession when he fired wide.
Woods, however, instigated a revival of Monaghan fortunes when he sent over a wonderful long range point. Anthony Rooney spared his side's blushes when he cleared the ball off the goal-line. Less than a minute later a goalmouth scramble ensued in the Meath box but Freeman couldn't finish to the net after some belated Meath defending proved sufficient. The Magheracloone man did manage to draw a foul soon after though, and Finlay scored the free from his hands.
Evan Kelly and John Cullinane could have scored more Meath goals, but both instead elected to fist over the bar. More good work from Finlay went unrewarded when McArdle's finishing let him down. But Tavey made no such mistake a few minutes later. Woods began to assert himself more and showed admirable composure to finish off a good passing movement with a point and then convert another free.
Under-21 midfielder Francis Markey replaced Hughes at midfield in the 56th minute, before Woods's over-exuberance earned him a booking for a check on Niall McKeigue. Finlay notched another free as another Under-21 panel member, Damien Larkin, entered the fray – replacing McArdle in the 60th minute.
Finlay expertly pointed a 45, but, just as Monaghan were closing in on their increasingly ragged opponents, Kelly punished them with a point after a defensive mishap. Another Woods point, this time from a free, prompted the introduction of a fit-again Ollie Murphy for Shane McKeigue. Murphy was given a warm welcome by the travelling fans, who were thrilled to see a convincing display capped by the comeback of one of their heroes. But Monaghan refused to give up as Woods (two frees) and Finlay made the scoreline more respectable with three late consolation points.
With the game headed for its inevitable conclusion, Boylan replaced Charles McCarthy and Paddy Reynolds (whose sound defending had thwarted Monaghan throughout) with Anthony Moyles and Mark O'Reilly respectively.
Monaghan could not fashion the late goals they so desperately needed and when the final whistle blew they were left to rue their appalling start that had cost them so dear. Despite blowing hot and cold today, Meath seem to have recovered from the Kildare defeat and appear to be a force to be reckoned once more.
Filed by James Boylan