Ulster Football Final: Seagulls swoop to see Tyrone triumph at Croke Park as Farney fightback falls just short

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Tyrone skipper Padraig Hampsey holds the Anglo-Celt Cup aloft after the Red Hand County's 0-16 to 0-15 triumph over Monaghan
Padraig Hampsey captained Tyrone to a 16th Ulster Championship triumph and the county's first title since 2017

As the Ulster Football Final was reaching its point of combustion amid Monaghan's stirring second-half revival, a colony of seagulls even arrived to see what all the fuss was about.

These unfairly maligned creatures presumably have had Croke Park predominantly all to themselves for the last 18 months and must have been wondering why noise was suddenly returning to GAA headquarters.

As they soared and swooped, the seagulls almost became a distraction but not quite as the 18,000 souls in the stands hollered amid the frenetic action unfolding below them.

Quality wise, Tyrone's 0-16 to 0-15 Ulster Final victory over Monaghan may not go down as a classic - there was far too much doubt exhibited by both sides for such a label to be attached to the game - but gripping it nevertheless was with more twists than an Olympic diver.

By half-time, the lucky journalists present, socially distanced of course, were already formulating their intros after Tyrone's domination of the opening 35 minutes but these had to be quickly dispensed with as Monaghan fought back after what must have been the mother of all half-time team talks from Banty McEnaney.

After the tragic death of their under-20 captain Brendan Og Duffy in a road accident, the Monaghan players had shown fortitude less than 24 hours later by beating Armagh in a classic Ulster semi-final and they showed their immense spirit once more with their stirring second-half fightback at Croke Park.

'We talked about the fight that's in our DNA'

"We talked about the fight that's in our DNA," said a clearly emotional McEnaney of Monaghan's half-time deliberations.

"I asked them to leave every single ounce of energy on that field before we come back in, and it we did that, I'd be proud of them. And I am proud of them."

Goalkeeper Rory Beggan was the very embodiment of this spirit.

You had to be in Croke Park to truly grasp this latest evolution in the art of goalkeeping as both Beggan and Tyrone custodian Niall Morgan were stationed for much of the contest on or beyond their own 65-metre lines.

Benny Tierney between the sticks this was not with Beggan virtually performing as an auxiliary midfielder during the breathless second half.

It was truly an extraordinary sight witnessing Beggan grappling and indeed winning possession around the middle as Tyrone's inside men and their markers watched on from Monaghan's 21.

The goalkeeping traditionalists at Croke Park or watching in their living rooms may have chortled as the Scotstown man seemed set to get his comeuppance in the dying moments of the contest when Tyrone's man of the match Mattie Donnelly bore down on Monaghan's goalkeeperless defence.

But from two yards adrift, Beggan performed a Tokyo-like sprint to get back to dispossess the Trillick man.

It was the moment of the match and perhaps of a GAA age.

Rory Beggan was just off target with this attempt for a point in the frantic second half at Croke Park
Rory Beggan rewrote the goalkeeping manual with his astonishing performance in the Ulster Final

But there were other pieces of brilliance which will linger long in the memory from this contest.

Donnelly's dummy solo which yielded his third score of the first half was reminiscent of Offaly legend Matt Connor at his best and came moments after Darren McCurry's exquisite - round-his-back - point from the tightest of angles near the sideline.

Those scores came during the ultimately pivotal period after the first water break as the Red Hands hit five points with Monaghan managing only two in addition to notching five bad wides.

The wides infection even afflicted Conor McManus during the second quarter as he was off target with two chances which could have levelled proceedings at 0-7 to 0-7.

But there was no doubting Tyrone's domination at this stage as they gleefully exploited Monaghan's high press on Niall Morgan's kickouts in the space left in behind to forge an 0-11 to 0-6 interval lead.

However from looking almost dead and buried at the break, the Monaghan players, with McEnaney's stirring words ringing in their ears, summoned up a comeback which might have even had Frank Sinatra reaching again for the microphone up in the clouds.

Within two minutes of the restart, points from Conor McCarthy and Beggan left only a kick of the ball between the sides and Monaghan were only starting as Jack McCarron's point levelled the contest at 0-12 to 0-12 by the 49th minute.

Monaghan butcher crucial goal chance

At that stage, everything seemed to be going wrong for Tyrone with Cathal McShane losing possession because of handling errors on two occasions after being sent on by Brian Dooher in an attempt to stem the tide.

But then came perhaps the pivotal moment of the match in the 50th minute as Monaghan butchered the goal chance which perhaps would have provided the knockout punch as superb substitute Colin Walshe's hand pass to unmarked McCarthy was a shade low and got stuck in the corner-forward's feet.

Within a minute, McShane had restored a Tyrone lead which they were never to relinquish despite Monaghan's late rally as they reduced a three-point gap to the minimum.

With Beggan rampaging his way around centrefield in the frantic closing minutes, taking your eyes off the action for a split second to take notes invariably meant you were missing something potentially crucial.

As the minutes ticked down, a Hawk-Eye adjudication ruled out a Beggan attempt from play as the keeper was unable to add to his two-point tally from placed balls.

Tyrone joint-manager Brian Dooher celebrates with skipper Padraig Hampsey after the Red Hand County's provincial triumph
Brian Dooher (left) had to patrol the Tyrone sideline without Feargal Logan in Saturday's provincial decider

Walshe, after being hauled down on the edge of the Tyrone 21, optimistically claimed for a penalty under the new controversial goal chance rule in the dying seconds of normal time only for David Gough to award a free which proved the final score of the contest.

Tyrone's joint-boss Brian Dooher, patrolling the sideline on his own because of Feargal Logan's enforced self-isolation and also down four players for unspecified reasons, was a relieved man as his side held on to set up an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Kerry at headquarters on 15 August.

"Just glad to get out of here," he admitted.

"There was a long period there especially at the end of it the way Monaghan were coming at us, we struggled to contain them.

"They asked hard questions of us. We didn't start the second half with the same purpose and intensity we had in the first."

Dooher then gave the stock answer about how a similar display would "not be good enough" to trouble a Kingdom side that rattled six goals past them seven weeks ago but one suspects the Kerry assignment was not uppermost in the minds of the Tyrone management and players at that moment after the second-half grilling they had just endured.

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