DOWN WERE crowned Ulster U20 football champions after a remarkable overtime fight with Monaghan – even though there was a lot more than football on a truly emotional evening.
After the tragic death of Monaghan captain Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh two weeks ago a cloud of sadness hung over the Athletic Grounds. The 19-year-old, affectionately known as Ogie, died hours in a car accident after leading his team to a semi-final victory over Donegal.
As Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp once said: “Football is the most important of the least important things”. By and large, it’s unimportant, but also important.
Player of the Game, Down’s Ruairi O’Hare, summed it up in his post-game interview with TG4 – “There are bigger things here than football” – and paid tribute to Ó Dufaigh and his deceased friend Niall Laverty.
#DWNvMON Lán Ama Comghairdeas le Ruairi O’Hare, is é Laoch na hImeartha inniu @OfficialDownGAA @EirGrid @GAA_BEO #GAA #GAABEONCo.twitter.com/2d4f/picture “My condolences go to the Monaghan boys,” said O’Hare, 1-2 scorer. “Personally, I know exactly how you feel. A year and a half ago a person from my own club passed away. My best friend, who I lived with.
“We had to play a relegation play-off a week and a half later. I know the feeling in your stomach you have now. It’s not nice. I managed to get over the line that day, but it’s not nice for the guys.
Down – Managed by Kilcoo’s former Down striker Conor Laverty who is a star-studded backroom team with the former AFL star Marty Clarke and Meath legend Sean Boylan are among those involved – will now face Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-finals next weekend, 7-8. August.
A truly poignant occasion at the Athletic Grounds: Andy Callan’s Monaghan team wore black armbands when a minute’s silence was observed for their deceased teammate before the throw-in.
Silence, then applause A fitting tribute to the late Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh ahead of the Ulster U20 Final between @monaghangaa and @OfficialDownGAA at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh. @UlsterGAA pic.twitter.com/AgV59MI2GZ
Monaghan number six was left blank in the program where Ó Dufaigh would have played. His parents, Brendan and Esther, attended the game and wore tops with “Ogie” and pictures of their son on them. The Monaghan players warmed up in it too, while Brendan spoke brilliantly at halftime on TG4.
Ronan Grimes was captain that evening – Ogie would be happy, his father noted – with Michael Hamill in the center-back.
The parents of the late Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh, Brendan and Esther, attend the game.
Source: Declan Roughan / INPHO
Two points in the first two minutes from Darragh McElerney and Ronan Boyle got Monaghan off to a perfect start before captain Shealan Johnston Down hit the mark.
In the sixth minute, the athletes applauded at the Athletic Grounds in memory of Ó Dufaigh while Sean Jones – 0-8 goalscorer in a sparkling individual standings – sent in a free game. But Derry’s next attack resulted in a gate; a wonderful team platoon hit into the net by O’Hare.
The influential Jones was brought to life from there and shared the posts with two stunning points from the game to lift his team’s spirits. While Down showed the better attack on restart, it stayed pretty even on the scoreboard. O’Hare and Jones (free) exchanged scores, then again Jason Irwin and O’Hare.
In the 26th minute Monaghan struck back with a brilliant and similar own goal; McElerney was the man who drove home before Jones followed up with a point to make it 1-8 to 1-6 in Farney’s favor.
Downs Ryan Magill and Tom Smyth with Ronan Grimes and Jason Irwin from Monaghan.
Source: Declan Roughan / INPHO
Inniskeen’s goal-scoring striker almost scored another goal for Monaghan just before the break when his shot from the back of a long ball sailed over the bar. It ruined Peter McMullan’s earlier point on the other end, leaving the half-time score at 1-9 to 1-7.
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Tom Smyth opened the scoring in the second half when Down fired all the cannons. Even so, the Morne missed some chances, despite Andrew Gilmore making up for awesome free spins.
Jones and Donnach Swinburne scored on the other end, and on the second waterbreak of the open competition there was a point between the sides – 1-11 to 1-10 .
Monaghan landed the first point in the return leg through Irwin, but Gilmore soon had the ball in the net at the other end; his powerful finish sent Down one point ahead.
Danny Magill gave them a pillow as the rain pattered down the home straight and the Farney chased the game. Substitute Kyle Connolly drew back in the 59th minute before Jones went to high pressure to equalize in the first of four minutes of stoppage.
It was a dramatic final of normal time, in which both of them after a pair of black cards for separate Incidents have been reduced to 14, although there shouldn’t be a winner after the more than 60 minutes.
🏆Teams line up for the @EirGrid @UlsterGAAunder 20 final as follows ⬜️🟦 Monaghan v Down 🟥⬛️📆 Tonight (Friday) July 30th 🕙19: 30📺Live on Sport TG4 # theseareourcolours pic.twitter.com/LYMp3HUWZe
1-14 to 2-11 full-time, Down pushed in the first half of extra time, with Gilmore and Shea Croskey advised to restore their two-point lead at halftime.
Goalkeeper Smyth’s brilliant free kick in the second half of added time gave Morne another lead before Justin Clarke’s goal ended the game.
‘ Keeper Smyth added just before the end whistled another and it ended 3-15 to 1-14 as Monaghan players fell to the ground, a physically demanding 80 minutes that rounded off two terrible weeks.
Monaghan goalscorers: Sean Jones 0-8, 3f , Darragh McElerney 1-1, Jason Irwin 0-2, Ronan Boyle, Donnach Swinburne, Kyle Connolly, all 0-1
Goalscorers for Down: Andrew Gilmore 1-3, Ruairi O’Hare 1-2, Justin Clarke 1-0, Shaealan Johnston 0-2, 1f, Anthony Morgan, Tom Smyth, Peter McMullan, Tom Smyth, Danny Magill, Shea Croskey, Charlie Smith, all 0-1.
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“There are bigger things here than football” – Down Edge Monaghan comments in the emotional Ulster U20 final