Peter Canavan column: Monaghan spirit sets up mouth-watering Ulster decider with Tyrone

It was a very brave decision by Monaghan to play the game against Armagh on Saturday.

There were incredibly difficult circumstances after the death of Brendán Óg Duffy.

You have got to commend the management and the way they handled things. For Seamus McEnaney to compose himself in a very short space of time, first of all to come to terms with the terrible news himself before taking charge of the group of players, was admirable.

‘Banty’ got them in the right headspace to go out and deliver a huge performance. That speaks volumes for the Monaghan set-up as a whole.

From my own perspective as a neutral, hearing that sort of news sickens you. Football is the last thing on your mind. And that’s from someone that wasn’t directly involved in the game.

I was surprised that the game went ahead, but Monaghan felt it was the right thing to do. And they played admirably.

At one stage in the second half, the game looked to have slipped away from the Farney men. A lot of their players looked out on their feet. But from somewhere they found the resilience and they dug deep to come up with the goods, largely thanks to their main man Conor McManus.

The best way of judging character is what a person does when the chips are down, when the team needs them most. If there was ever a time when Monaghan needed their talisman to stand up, it was in the closing stages of Saturday’s semi-final.

With time almost up and Monaghan two points down, the next three scores all came from fouls on Conor McManus. Two of them were clear-cut fouls, one was down to his cuteness, and without a doubt he managed to buy a free from sloppy defending. But that was only part of the job. One of the frees was straightforward. The other two were far from simple.

Remarkable composure and leadership from McManus got them over the line.

As for Armagh, they will be disappointed with their start, but played their part in a fantastic contest.

What a pulsating game of football highlighting everything that’s good about our game.

Substitutes steer Tyrone past Donegal

Similar to Monaghan, Tyrone’s leaders stood up when needed. Mattie Donnelly in particular. When the going got tough in the second half, he stepped up to the plate

In so many tight games, the difference between winning and losing is the bench. And Tyrone’s substitutes made the bigger impact in Enniskillen.

Tiernan McCann, Conor McKenna and Ben McDonnell all provided big moments. Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan got more change from their bench than Declan Bonner.

There was no shortage of talking points.

Tyrone were aggrieved with the penalty call, when clearly Ciaran Thompson wasn’t through on goal. It wasn’t a last-man pulldown. Donegal were unhappy with the first yellow card for Michael Murphy.

But in between, there were some great scores, some great personal duels. And a game that could have gone either way with a few minutes to go.

Both sides are going into the Ulster final having played brilliant football in spells, but also there were times when they let the opposition get at them.

It is a game that is very well balanced. When the Red Hands and the Farney County face off, the contests are always tight. They played out a draw during the National League. I would expect more of the same in Croke Park.

Is there cause for concern in Dublin?

Dublin looked home and hosed at half-time against Meath on Sunday, but they let the Royals come back at them. That is most un-Dublin-like.

They still won the game by six points, and were in total control at the end of the game.

But that is a measure of where this Dublin team is at. People think they have been given a scare because Meath got within six points.

I don’t think they were ever going to lose that game. But there were signs of complacency that we haven’t seen in them for a while. They weren’t that convincing against Wexford, and they weren’t convincing again in the semi-final.

Several players have dropped off the panel, and they have some injuries. So maybe that explains the fall-off in performance.

But they remain hot favourites to win Leinster. And Dessie Farrell would prefer his team to peak in August.

Can Galway topple Mayo?

This is a fascinating contest. Who will benefit from the move to Croke Park?

You have grounds to argue it would suit the Galway style of play. But Mayo are more than comfortable at HQ, and will feel at home.

At the start of the year, I gave Galway a great chance. Damien Comer and Shane Walsh are top forwards. Matthew Tierney has brought a lot to the midfield.

The fact that Cillian O’Connor is absent swings it in the Tribesmen’s favour.

If Galway can stem the runners coming from deep, and the strong running game that Mayo boast, I think they have the personnel up front to do enough damage. It’s going to be a close one, it will go to the wire. But I think Galway could edge it.

Kerry to continue their march

Sunday’s contest will be played in completely different conditions to last November in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, when Cork stunned the Kingdom.

Ronan McCarthy will know what worked in 2020, and will target the same match-ups to try to nullify Kerry’s main threats.

But Peter Keane’s charges are moving so well right now. They are pushing up on kick-outs, playing as a team, they have so much going for them.

To me their most consistent player in the league and championship has been Paudie Clifford. He wasn’t there last year, and will be another headache for the Rebels. He’s making a lot of things click.

Although Cork will always raise their game for Kerry, I would be surprised if they get within six or seven points.

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