Monaghan are just one game from the Super 8s after Conor McCarthy and Conor McManus helped them to a 13-point win over Leitrim at Paris Sean Mac Diarmada.
One of the provincial finalists awaits in the next round for Malachy O’Rourke’s side, but after wins against Waterford and Leitrim – two Division 4 teams – bigger tests await the Ulster side.
McCarthy hit the only goal of the game a minute from time as the heat took its toll on both teams, but Monaghan easily ran out winners against their outclassed hosts.
It was a lightening fast start from Monaghan in Carrick on Shannon and barely 30 seconds had elapsed when Conor McManus’s long range effort just crept over the crossbar of Diarmuid McKiernan.
Straight from the kick out McManus could have hit the net for Monaghan but he pulled his shot across the face o goal. Instead Leitrim kicked the levelling point at the other end when Jack Heslin found the target when he crept in behind.
Conor McCarthy landed his first point in the seventh minute, which was matched at the other end by Heslin, who scored from an awkward angle. Leitrim continued to match Monaghan score for score but they failed to take the goal chances that came their way. Ryan O’Rourke was denied by Rory Beggan after nine minutes, while Darragh Rooney’s goal bound effort was blocked by Dessie Ward five minutes later.
Monaghan too were guilty of not making the most of their chances, Darren Hughes was denied by McKiernan’s brilliant save after 20 minutes, although Beggan slotted the 45 that followed to open out a two point advantage for Monaghan.
McManus ended the first-half with four point, but he was lucky not to see red for an ugly lunge on Michael McWeeney, a foul that left the Leitrim defender limping and the Monaghan forward with a yellow card to his name from referee Niall Cullen.
Once Monaghan tightened up the gaps at the back and began to turnover the Leitrim ball carriers, their forwards began to shine. Six points in a row put them 0-9 to 0-3 ahead, and they carried that six-point lead into the break.
It was McCarthy’s turn to spurn a brilliant goal chance shortly after the restart when his shot on the turn flew past the post, but his captain Colin Walshe extended the lead following a driving run from deep after 40 minutes.
Following some great defending from McWeeney a turnover cost Leitrim a score when McManus split the posts, while Beggan stepped forward with a long range free to give his side a 0-13 to 0-4 lead with 20 minutes to go.
That lead should have been much stronger, but Monaghan went through a poor spell in front of goal and kicked five wides in succession, while Heslin and O’Rourke pointed for Leitrim to close the gap to seven.
But substitute Paudie McKenna landed to points before McCarthy palmed to the net with a minute to go to pad out the winning margin.
Monaghan: Rory Beggan (0-02, 0-01f, 0-01 45); Kieran Duffy, Conor Boyle, Ryan Wylie (0-01); Fintan Kelly (0-01), Colin Walshe (0-01), Dessie Ward (0-01); Niall Kearns, Darren Hughes; Ryan McAnespie, Dermot Malone, Karl O’Connell (0-01); Conor McCarthy (1-03, 0-02f), Thomas Kerr, Conor McManus (0-05, 0-03f).
Subs: Owen Duffy for Malone (44), Shane Carey for T Kerr (44), Paudie McKenna (0-02) for Kelly (47), Neil McAdam for Hughes (50), Dessie Mone for Boyle (54), Jack McCarron (0-02, 0-02f) for McManus (61).
Leitrim: Diarmuid McKiernan; Paddy Maguire, James Mitchell, Michael McWeeney; James Rooney, Shane Quinn, Noel Plunkett; Jack Heslin (0-03), Donal Wrynn; Aidan Flynn, Ryan O’Rourke (0-02), Brendan Gallagher; Darragh Rooney, Damien Moran, Emlyn Mulligan (0-04, 0-04f).
Subs: Dean McGovern for Gallagher (33), Cillian McGloin for Plunkett (half-time), Domhnaill Flynn for Moran (54), Eoin Ward for Heslin (61), N McWeeney for J Rooney (67), Jack Gilheany for Wrynn (71).
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).