Saturday 30th April 2022
Last year's beaten finalists Monaghan survived a scare early in the second half to reach the Ulster Championship semi-finals with a 0-23 to 2-7 win over Down at a rainy Clones.
Monaghan, who lost the 2021 decider by a point to Tyrone, appeared to be cruising into the last four until two Down goals either side of half-time brought the Mournemen to within three.
Caolan Mooney and Pat Havern got the Down goals but Monaghan remained unnerved and added 11 to their tally to run out comfortable winners.
Monaghan will face the winners of Sunday's quarter-final between Tyrone and Derry for a place in the 29 May decider, while Down - who finished the game with 14 men after Tiarnan Rushe's sending off in stoppage time - drop into the Tailteann Cup.
Having secured a ninth straight year in Division One with a stunning 3-13 to 1-18 victory over Dublin in their final National League game, Monaghan were widely expected to begin their championship campaign with a convincing win over the Mournemen.
And so it was entirely unsurprising to see Seamus McEnaney's men control the vast majority of the first half, with Jack McCarron picking up where he left off.
Having hit 2-6 in the win over Dublin - including a last-gasp free to prolong Monaghan's stay in the top flight - the corner forward accounted for four of Monaghan's dozen points in the first half, including a stunner from near the sideline on the right that produced ripples of excited applause through the home crowd.
Down often made progress down the flanks only to be shut down by the Monaghan defenders, but they finally pierced a hole in the Farney full-back line when Mooney danced his way through and fired low past Rory Beggan.
Mooney's goal, arriving immediately after a Conor Poland score, gave Down a glimmer of hope as they marched off at half-time with a five-point deficit which quickly became two when Havern fired past Beggan within 15 seconds of the restart.
Down's unexpected two-goal sucker-punch would have been enough to entirely change the complexion of most games, but Monaghan issued a firm reminder of their status as an established provincial force by hitting 11 of the game's last 14 scores to secure safe passage to the last four.
While Monaghan could draw on a momentum-boosting win over Dublin last time out, Down, in contrast, were looking to breathe new life into their season after a miserable league campaign which resulted in relegation to Division Three.
But instead the Mournemen produced a sluggish first-half performance which allowed Monaghan to register eight out of the game's first nine scores.
While McCarron put his first effort wide, the Currin clubman atoned in style with three scores before producing one of the game's finest moments when he nailed a left-footer from out near the right sideline.
Down had offered little going forward but after Poland's score reduced the deficit to eight, Mooney broke into pace, skipped past Ryan McAnespie and slotted a low shot under Beggan.
Havern's goal immediately after the restart suggested that, like in 2017 when they sealed a shock Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan, they were primed to rip up the script.
But it wasn't to be. Havern's goal was followed by four unanswered Monaghan scores, and after a Daniel Guinness score, they hit another five without reply to move 0-21 to 2-5 clear.
In injury time, with the game already well wrapped up, Down's misery was compounded when substitute Rushe was shown a second yellow card for clattering into Karl O'Connell.
It completed another dismal afternoon for the Mournemen and they now have to plan for a maiden Tailteann Cup campaign, a competition they hope can help arrest their slide and bring a first competitive victory of 2022.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-2, 1f, 1 '45); K Duffy (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), R Wylie (capt, 0-1); R McAnespie, D Ward, C McCarthy (0-1); D Hughes, N Kearns; A Woods (0-1), K Hughes (0-1), M Bannigan; J McCarron (0-7, 2f, 1m), G Mohan (0-3, 2f), C McManus (0-4, 3f).
Subs: S Carey (0-1) for M Bannigan '41, D Wylie for K Duffy '54, K O'Connell for D Hughes '59, C Leonard for N Kearns '60, S Jones for A Woods '64, D Garland for K O'Connell '75.
Down: N Kane; P Fegan, B McArdle, O'Hagan; R Magill, N McParland, R McCormack; C Mooney (1-0), O Murdock; R McEvoy, C Poland (0-1), B O'Hagan (0-1); C Francis, A Gilmore (0-1, f), P Havern (1-1).
Subs: R O'Hare for A Gilmore '33, D Guinness (0-2) for C Francis '40, A Doherty for R McEvoy '49, T Rushe (0-1, f) for P Havern '54, G Collins for B McArdle '60.
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)