Monaghan advanced to the third round of the Bank of Ireland All-Ireland SFC with a 0-17 to 0-12 victory over fourteen-man Wexford at Clones this evening. Monaghan midfielder Dick Clerkin was instrumental in much of his side's best moments as the home side led by 0-09 to 0-06 at the interval.
Wexford were then left with a mountain to climb when Niall Murphy was sent-off for a crude challenge early in the second half, and with Monaghan picking off some fine scores ran out of steam against the Farney men.
Just a few weeks ago, Monaghan appeared on the Croke Park undercard when Wexford contested the NFL Division One title. But at Clones today, the Farney men shuffled the pack, re-wrote the order of merit, and signalled the start of what could be a wondrous adventure for Seamus McEnaney's side. A five points qualifier win over the Model men sets Monaghan up for a crack at neighbours Louth in round three, a game they will be expected to win, and who knows what might happen after that?
Wexford went into the Leinster semi-final against Dublin confident of a positive showing, but a season which had promised so much fell apart today at St Tiernach's Park. Monaghan midfielder Dick Clerkin was allowed an alarming amount of space in the opening stages, his creativity setting up a number of opportunities, but wayward place kicking from Hugh McElroy and Paul Finlay frustrated the Ulster men.
And when McElroy did open the scoring from a fourth minute free, Wexford were soon level, Mattie Forde hitting a similar score on their first attack. The same two players exchanged converted frees as the modest attendance of 6,906 waited expectantly for the game to explode into action on a muggy, energy-sapping Clones afternoon.
By the 15th minute the sides were still deadlocked on two points each, we hadn't seen a score from play, nor had we witnessed even a glimpse of the mercurial talents of either Forde or Tommy Freeman. The Farney men had a glorious goal chance when substitute Shane McManus found himself unmarked and in the clear, but Raymond Ronaghan's poorly directed cross cleared his outstretched arms with ease.
With McEnaney getting the crowd going, his players began to respond, and three points late in the half saw them open out a three points half-time lead, 0-09 to 0-06, half back Gary McQuaid getting his name on the scoresheet, along with Tommy Freeman and Raymond Ronaghan.
At last some fluency for the home fans to admire, but they were pegged back within a minute of the restart when Forde sent Kinsella through for a point. Moments later Kinsella was denied by the base of a post after Forde and dual star Redmond Barry had combined on the left. Monaghan were now on the rack against a rejuvenated Model side which had substitutes John Hegarty and Jim D'Arcy winning valuable ball in the central area.
But they suffered a blow eight minutes into the half when full back Niall Murphy was sent-off for a crude challenge on full forward McElroy. The home side responded with points from Finlay, who converted the resultant free, and Tommy Freeman, who lofted a wonderful effort from wide on the right.
Kinsella, Wexford's most effective forward on the day, kept his side in touch with a neat score. But Monaghan were just getting into their stride, and as Wexford appeared to grow tired and somewhat frustrated, evidenced by a rash of bookings, the home side began to throw some impressive moves together.
Using the extra man to useful effect, they stretched the Model defence, and when Tommy Freeman and McElroy both landed spectacular scores from play, the Farney faithful were now finding their voice. Forde pulled back a free, but he had still failed to find a point from play off tenacious marker Colm Flanagan.
Substitute Nicholas Corrigan took a Ronaghan pass to become the seventh Monaghan player to score, and even when Forde and Nicky Lambert edged the Leinster men closer, Tommy Freeman once again delighted with a superb score. Brother Damien darted forward again for his second point and McEnaney's men were five clear with five to play.
Vincent Corey and Dermot McArdle were keeping it neat, tidy and solid at the back, and Wexford attacks were repeatedly broken by a hungry and disciplined defence. In the end, it came down to hunger, belief and teamwork as Monaghan set up a derby clash with Louth in round three.
Monaghan: S Duffy, D McArdle, J Coyle, C Flanagan, D Freeman (c) (0-2), V Corey, G McQuaid (0-1), D Clerkin, E Lennon, J McElroy, P Finlay (0-4, 4f), R Ronaghan (0-1), T Freeman (0-4), H McElroy (0-3, 2f), S Gollogly Subs: S McManus for J McElroy (17m), N Corrigan (0-1) for Gollogly (53m), D McKernan (0-1) for McManus (68m), F Duffy for Lennon (69)
Wexford: J Cooper, C Morris, N Murphy, D Breen, K Kennedy, D Murphy, P Curtis (0-1), N Lambert (0-1), D Fogarty, R Barry, S Cullen, J Hudson (c), PJ Banville, D Kinsella (0-3), M Forde (0-7, 6f, 1 '45'). Subs: D Browne for Cullen (26m), J D'Arcy for Fogarty (31m), J Hegarty for Banville (h-t), P Colfer for Hudson (46m), R Mageean for Murphy (65m)
Referee: P McGovern (Galway)