Monaghan United ended a decade of exile in fine style as they defeated Galway United 3-1 at Terryland Park to complete a 5-1 aggregate victory and secure promotion to the Airtricity League Premier Division.
Leading 2-0 from the home leg, Monaghan produced a highly impressive performance and two goals from Declan “Fabio” O’Brien in the first half effectively ended the tie as a contest. Ryan Brennan’s sumptuous third after 51 minutes confirmed that and even a late consolation from Alan Murphy could not take the gloss of Monaghan’s win.
Despite indications that he might ring the changes, Roddy Collins only made the one enforced alteration from the side that had comfortably won the first leg, with Keith Quinn, back from suspension, slotting in for the suspended Eric Foley in the centre of midfield.
Monaghan were backed by a large travelling support while the home side were boosted by the presence of club president and Ireland’s President-Elect Michael D Higgins, who received an ovation from the 1,400 Terryland Park crowd before kick-off. But the Galwegians had little to cheer once the tie resumed. Monaghan, wisely opting not to rest on their laurels and defend their lead, were quickly into their stride and forced a series of corners in the first 10 minutes.
Ryan Brennan, the metronomic presence in Monaghan’s midfield, had a shot locked behind after 5 minutes and minutes later, a fine John Reilly cross flew across the box without any Monaghan attacker able to get a touch. Brennan and the impressive Quinn, back to his best alongside, were well on top in the engine room and dangermen Reilly and Sean Brennan were getting plenty of possession.
A Sean Brennan through ball was misjudged by Galway keeper Conor Winn but he managed to recover and hack clear as Paul Whelan beared down on him. But Galway were afforded the first clear-cut opening after 25 minutes when a Gabriel Sava punch fell to Ronan Cauldwell in the box but the Galway striker blazed over when well placed.
They were made to pay for that within a minute as Monaghan surged forward to score. Sean Brennan was – as so often this season – the provider with his threaded through ball reaching Declan “Fabio” O’Brien via a slight deflection and the Mons striker showed great composure to race clear and hit a perfect low left-foot drive beyond Conor Winn and into the bottom corner.
The Mons continued to dominate and one peach of a crossfield pass from Sean Brennan gave John Reilly possession but his shot was blocked and Galway scrambled clear and survived three successive corners. But their reprieve did not last long – with Monaghan doubling their advantage after 33 minutes.
It was fitting that the goal that effectively clinched Monaghan’s promotion came from the type of flowing passing football that has characterised much of their play in 2011. Ryan Brennan initiated the move as he spread the play from the middle to his brother Sean wide on the right. The Mons’ top scorer again turned provider, beating the full-back as if he wasn’t there and then whipping in a fierce low cross that invited the sort of clinical close range finish that Fabio O’Brien was only too happy to provide.
It was his 17th goal in all competition this season and the most important as Galway now needed four goals in the remaining hour to even force extra time. And six minutes into the second half the tie was over as United added a third with another stunning move. This time it was the product of a pitch-length passing move. Gabriel Sava’s punch reached Sean Brennan and the scorer of 15 league goals for Monaghan this term provided his umpteenth assist – and third of the game – with a diagonal ball that took out the home defence and left brother Ryan on the left of the area with keeper Winn advancing and Brennan junior showed fine technique and awareness to deftly lob-volley the ball over the keeper to make it 3-0.
Sean Brennan was denied by a fine Winn save soon after and then Ryan came close close from a corner. Roddy Collins then introduced three substitutes in one go with David Byrne, Philip Byrne and William McDonagh on for Jordan Keegan, Aidan Collins and Ryan Brennan after 56 minutes. That stalled the Monaghan momentum for a while but 15 minutes later the game sparked back to life. Gabriel Sava, showing great concentration as well as agility, pulled off a stunning save from Darragh Duggan and Monaghan broke straight downfield straight away and only a combination of the post and keeper Winn denied Davy Byrne a Monaghan fourth.
Winn saved again from Byrne minutes later but Galway were able to conjure up a consolation after 82 minutes when veteran Alan Murphy slotted home after a fine break. Galway needed five more but it was Monaghan who continued to threaten – Reilly forcing another Winn save and Sean Brennan curling wide. Fabio thought he had hit his hat-trick after 88 minutes when he raced in behind and beat Winn with a fine finish but Stephen Walsh got back to clear although the suspicion among the Monaghan fans was that the ball had already crossed the line. And Monaghan still had time to hit the woodwork a second time as a stunning dipping shot from John Reilly from 35 metres crashed back off the crossbar.
The full-time whistle sparked scenes of great celebration among the United team. backroom staff and fans alike – Monaghan’s 10-year exile from the top flight was finally over.
Galway United: Conor Winn; Paul Sinnott, Laurence Gaughan, Yob Son, Stephen Walsh;Mikey Gilmore, Gary Kelly, Eric Browne, Ronan Caldwell; Bobby Ryan, Alan Murphy.
Subs: Darragh Duggan for Browne (56 mins), Sean Kelly for Cauldwell (56 mins).
Monaghan United: Gabriel Sava; Paul Whelan, Aidan Collins, Alan Byrne, Shane Grimes; John Reilly, Ryan Brennan, Keith Quinn, Jordan Keegan; Declan O’Brien, Sean Brennan.
Subs: David Byrne for Keegan, William McDonagh for Collins, Philip Byrne for Ryan Brennan (all 56 mins).
Referee: Padraig Sutton.