29 March 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

In keeping with Monaghan teams’ tendency to avoid the easy route, this year’s Allianz NFL Division 3 promotion race will go down to the last day. by COLM SHALVEY

Conditions were far from ideal at a bitterly cold and windy Dr. Hyde Park, but the game and Monaghan’s performance did nothing to warm up the travelling support, as an error-strewn 70 minutes ended with Roscommon finishing strongly to clinch the two points. The game was about as far away as could be imagined from the previous weekend’s win over Wicklow: in the conditions, the tactics used and ultimately, the result.

After leaking 3-10 against Wicklow, Monaghan needed to tighten up at the back, but they took it to an extreme, adopting a mass defence even with the wind, leaving at times only two players in the Roscommon half. They did manage to restrict the home team to eight points, but Monaghan’s scoring rate plummeted from 5-13 to a mere seven points.

Monaghan strangely decided to persist with the short-passing game and seemed reluctant to kick the ball on long and early when they had the wind at their backs. Even when the ball was sent in, it was all too often over-hit, leaving the inside forwards with no chance of winning it, which was all the more frustrating given that Kieran Hughes consistently had the beating of his man. It was also Conor McManus dropped very deep, well back into his own half at times in an attempt to gain some possession. McManus, who had gone into the game just a point behind Sligo’s Adrian Marren in the Division Three scoring charts with 2-21, added just one point to his tally last Sunday, with his finishing uncharacteristically letting him down a couple of times. Paul Finlay also struggled to get into the game and although Dessie Mone and, in particular Darren Hughes, did their best to drive their team forward from the back, they too often lacked support.

A three-point lead at half-time was never likely to be enough given the strength of the wind Monaghan had in their favour in the opening 35 minutes and so it proved. They did make a reasonable start to the second half, scoring two of the first three points, but a failure to add to their tally in the last 25 minutes allowed Roscommon to gradually reel them in. Monaghan still led by three with eight minutes remaining, but the hosts found an extra gear to kick four late points. Rossie midfielders Kevin Higgins and Michael Finneran put the wind to good use when lofting over long-range scores, with the latter proving to be the winner.

Monaghan could point to the fact that Tommy Freeman’s absence weakened their attack, as even his presence creates more space for his fellow forwards, but Roscommon were without their own talisman in Donie Shine, as well as their All-Ireland-winning St. Brigid’s players, bar Ian Kilbride, who came on for the last 20 minutes.

Referee Derek O’Mahoney certainly didn’t do Monaghan any favours. The free count significantly favoured Roscommon, while the Tipperary official, who is relatively inexperienced at national level, refused to give Monaghan a penalty when Kieran Hughes seemed to be tripped in the square midway through the first half. His most puzzling decision – one that irked Malachy O’Rourke – was when he forced Monaghan to play on when Rory Beggan went down in need of treatment inside the final quarter and went on to throw the ball up on the 20-metre line, ruling that they were wasting time.
This Sunday’s game between Antrim and Meath, which was rescheduled after Casement Park was covered in snow last weekend, will also have a major bearing on …

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