By Shaun Casey
THIS weekend, Donegal and Monaghan renew a rivalry that started ten years ago when they emerged as the two best teams in the province, following over a decade of dominance from Armagh and Tyrone.
During a four-year span, the two counties clashed on five occasions with both teams winning two along with a draw in 2016. A lot of the players that made the rivalry so special have since stepped away, like Michael Murphy and Drew Wylie, but there are still plenty of links to both teams a decade on.
2013 Ulster final
Monaghan 0-13 Donegal 0-7
DONEGAL ended their long wait for the Anglo Celt in 2011 and followed it up by capturing the Sam Maguire 12 months later and were heavy favourites to complete a three in-a-row of Ulsters when they came up against Monaghan, and Malachy O’Rourke, in 2013.
But the Farney men had other ideas and Monaghan mirrored Donegal’s defensive style that had worked so well in the previous two seasons, and with Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus in full flow up front, they captured their first Ulster title in 25 years.
It was fitting that Monaghan legend Tommy Freeman came off the bench to kick the final score of the game and that a number of Monaghan stalwarts like Paul Finlay, Dick Clerkin, Dessie Mone and Owen Lennon finally got their hands on an Ulster medal.
2014 Ulster final
Donegal 0-15 Monaghan 1-9
THE following year the same pair met in the Ulster final once again, but this time Jim McGuinness’ side would have their revenge. Donegal edged a low scoring first half to carry a two-point advantage into the second period, winning 0-6 to 0-4 before Colm McFadden stretched their lead to four shortly after the turnaround.
But Monaghan powered back into contention when Christopher McGuinness fired a low effort past Paul Durcan and into the bottom corner to cut the deficit to one. Despite being offered a lifeline, Monaghan couldn’t build on the momentum and Donegal eventually ran out three-point winners, claiming their third Ulster title in four years.
Donegal went on to reach the All-Ireland final, famously beating Dublin in the semis, but lost to Kerry on the biggest day.
2015 Ulster final
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 0-10
FOR the third year in a row, Monaghan and Donegal matched up on Ulster final day and Malachy O’Rourke’s side had the final say in the trilogy. Farney captain Conor McManus proved unmarkable, and his usual opponent Neil McGee couldn’t get to grips with the Clontibret sharpshooter.
Five points on the trot from the eventual winners, with four coming from the boot of McManus, sent Monaghan into the half-time break with a double score lead, 0-8 to 0-4. Donegal, now under the management of Rory Gallagher, came back into the game off the back of Paddy McBrearty’s accuracy from the dead ball.
Donegal narrowed the gap to one and despite failing to score for the final 23 minutes of the game, Monaghan defended heroically to hold on to their one-point lead and reclaim the Anglo Celt.
2016 Ulster semi-final
Monaghan 0-14 Donegal 1-11
MONAGHAN and Donegal couldn’t be separated when they clashed in the 2016 Ulster semi-final, with Conor McManus once again proving the hero for Malachy O’Rourke’s side.
McManus nailed three late frees to ensure Monaghan earned another crack at their provincial rivals as Donegal looked to have done enough to win with an Odhran MacNiallais goal in the 55th minute.
It was all square at the short whistle, with the sides heading into the half-time break level on 0-6 apiece.
Donegal’s hopes received a massive blow when they lost midfielder Martin McElhinney to a red card, following up his early booking with a black card offence on Drew Wylie. MacNiallais put them ahead, but McManus ensured that the two teams would have to do it all again with his eighth point of the day.
2016 Ulster s-f replay
Donegal 0-17 Monaghan 2-10
DONEGAL ended Monaghan’s reign as Ulster champions when they edged out Malachy O’Rourke’s men by the minimum of margins.
Just like the first game, Donegal finished with 14 men as Rory Kavanagh headed for an early shower, but Monaghan also had a man sent to the line when Karl O’Connell’s black card saw him receive his marching orders as Monaghan had already used all six of their substitutes and couldn’t replace him.
Monaghan hit the net twice in the opening period through Shane Carey and Conor McManus and while they pressed hard at the end, Donegal held on to their slender one-point advantage to reach the Ulster final for the sixth year in a row.