By Niall Gartland
KILLIAN Lavelle says it’s embedded in the very DNA of Monaghan teams to never give up the ghost no matter what the circumstances, and their trademark resilience paid off last Sunday with a dramatic victory on Tyrone’s home patch.
The Monaghan midfielder acknowledged that their first-half performance wasn’t anything worth writing home about, but they reeled in a five-point deficit and clinched the victory when championship debutant Ryan O’Toole went for broke in the sixth minute of injury time with a decisive goal that settled one of the great Ulster Championship matches.
It’s been some turnaround from the Farney men, who not that long ago looked in real peril of relegation from Division One. They pulled it out of the bag with a last-day victory over Mayo and have followed that up with a surprise win over Tyrone that sets up a semi-final clash against Derry in just over a week’s time.
Lavelle said: “We didn’t perform consistently across the two halves in a lot of our games this year, so the focus was on rectifying that.
“We were sluggish again in the first half but you have to credit Stephen [O’Hanlon] and Ryan, their two goals got us over the line. It’s just in our DNA that we go to the end and never say never.”
Vastly experienced campaigners like Conor McManus, Karl O’Connell and Rory Beggan were crucial to their second-half comeback, but players at the opposite end of the experience spectrum, none more so than their hero of the hour O’Toole, were also critically important on the day.
“We got to the Ulster final in 2021 and a lot of new faces have come in over the last couple of years and those young lads have made the panel stronger. Different lads are stepping up and leading by example. Whether it’s the least or more experienced player, it takes everyone in the panel to get you over the line, especially in these big games.”
And on O’Toole’s late intervention, Lavelle commented: “I was actually behind him thinking ‘just fist it over’ though I’m not sure extra-time sounded that appetising. But that’s two goals in as many games for Ryan now, I’m not sure what celebration he did but he got a fair bit of slagging for the celebration against Mayo.”
Monaghan’s championship record against Tyrone isn’t great, so it was also gratifying to get one over the Red Hands, according to Lavelle.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few one-point games against the likes of Tyrone and it’s not nice to experience that.
“We know what it feels like. We came into this game with a framework to go and play and when we hit the targets we’re given, we believe we can beat any team.”