Michael Murphy: Low-energy Monaghan were waiting to be beaten in Clones

Cavan pulled off upset in muted affair, but look overly dependent on Paddy Lynch to trouble Tyrone

Since I’ve stopped playing, I like to get to Clones early, two hours before a match. Normally you park well out from the town and I’d enjoy the walk in but on Sunday I got the car way closer than I’d expect – on the Newtownbutler Road at the back of the Creighton.

That corner is usually thronged but this time it was eerily quiet and so was the walk up the hill. People were saying that the Monaghan rally was on but does that really keep many away from a local derby championship match?

Eventually the band got some sort of atmosphere going but a crowd of 8,000 made for a fairly low-key occasion.

I wasn’t anticipating the result. Monaghan didn’t have a great league but Cavan weren’t a whole lot better in their final matches in Division Two.


It ended up as a case of Monaghan expecting a win versus Cavan’s desire to create an upset. One team was waiting for it to happen and the other made it happen. The energy we saw from Monaghan last year took them close to an All-Ireland final – in the semi-final they played as well against Dublin as anyone managed – but it wasn’t there on Sunday.

Cavan’s recent bad results and the ferocious wind may account for their being so conservative in the first half, leaving Paddy Lynch up on his own with bodies being smothered between the two 45s.

They needed to play with more depth and get players up to support Lynch and to drag Monaghan around a bit.

They did get the odd runner going forward and Niall Carolan did well. Because the Monaghan tackling was so undisciplined, it kept Cavan in it with kickable frees.

Otherwise, it seemed to be matter of, “Here you go, Paddy. There’s the ball but we’ll stay back so that when you’re turned over, we’ll be here to stop the transition”. It was very frustrating.

I know that you have to be reasonable, looking at these matches. Most teams set up conservatively because they have to.

A lot was made of the Division One final the other week and when you look at the top three teams, Dublin, Derry and Kerry there is an outcry to play football like they do. But top teams are comfortable in their own skins; they’re not set up to try to hide weaknesses.

So, there we were at half-time, Monaghan leading 0-7 to 0-5, bemoaning Cavan’s attacking play being as one-dimensional as it was. They had no scores from play. Monaghan have never been the most ruthless at putting teams away but you still felt they had enough in them.

The big, key moments in the second half, though, all went Cavan’s way. The more the game sits with me, the more important the loss of Darren Hughes becomes. There was good news on Monday that the injury may not be as bad as feared. It would be a terrible way for such a great Monaghan servant to finish his career.

The three goals all came after he had to go off. Look at the first two, which were crucial and think of Darren’s positioning in the first half and where he potentially would have been in the second.

For the first, Pádraig Faulkner picked the ball up in the middle of the D beating Kevin Loughran, catching it brilliantly – like a full forward – but you imagine Darren would have been there.

The same was true for Gerard Smith’s goal when Conor McCarthy didn’t track him. Both goals came from beating just one man. Nobody was providing that safety net.

There was a big cheer before the game started when it was announced that Rory Beggan would be starting. A small crowd in Clones is about as far as you can get from the razzmatazz of American football but he was so good, I found it hard to get out of my head that he’d been kicking an oval ball for past couple of months.

What was really striking about the Monaghan ‘keeper, from our view high up in the corner when Monaghan were shooting into the River End, was the ability to play with his head up.

He’s not an outfield player but the excitement he creates on the ball; he takes a solo, he looks up and the movement from the Monaghan forwards becomes energised, in all directions.

They know one, Beggan has the capability of hitting the pass and two, he will take the risk. There was exceptional weight on a couple of his passes, like for the goal chance in the first half, which unfortunately for Monaghan, fell to the wrong man. Even the fist pass to Karl O’Connell, got him up the field to put it over the bar.

There has been a lot made of his kick-outs, which Cavan largely dropped off, and his free-taking as well as the save he made in the first half from Paddy Lynch but it’s his ability to play in an outfield role and willingness to kick the ball inside that separates him from others.

Monaghan played like typical favourites in trouble, which reminded me of the 2020 Ulster final during Covid when Donegal got caught. You go in, expecting to win the game.

It felt to me like Cavan were hanging on in the game and there were loads of stoppages even on top of Darren Hughes’s injury, which prevented any team getting momentum, particularly Monaghan. There was never a time when they could tag on three or four scores.

Favourites start rushing things. You get impatient. So, take a breath and calm things down. Then you overdo it and everything gets too calm. It appeared that Monaghan lacked energy but they were as fit and athletic as Cavan. I think in trying to settle things down, they overdid it.

And then comes the final stage when panic starts to break out. You get plenty of possession but the composure is gone. “We’re level here” or “we’re only one up” when we should have it in the bag.

Cavan were also doing a lot right in terms of Monaghan’s marquee forwards and another thing they do is always go long on the kick-outs. Yes, you’ll win a few but they do real damage with the ones they win – like the Faulkner goal.

The game flies by. Goal chances are missed. Shots blocked down. Wrong decisions. Suddenly the lines on the graph are crossing and panic well and truly sets in.

Monaghan have six weeks now to work on the All-Ireland series. They’ll go back to the clubs for a bit and get back in camp. Last year, they beat Tyrone and were abject against Derry but came out weeks later to play Derry again and they were transformed and went all the way to the semi-finals. Vinny Corey will hope to use the time as well in the weeks ahead.

Cavan head for a quarter-final against Tyrone. Gearóid McKiernan is now retired and Thomas Galligan has again opted out – two huge players for them over the years. Killian Clarke and Dara McVeety didn’t play and they were midfield and number 11 throughout the league campaign. Could those two players at least come back into the equation?

I’ve watched them on a number of occasions and the overreliance on Paddy Lynch is there for all to see. Tyrone haven’t had a hugely impressive league but Brian Dooher was there in Clones and players like Pádraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan will already be looking at how to nullify Lynch.

Tyrone aren’t ideal opponents for a team so dependent on one forward.