In 1979 the Monaghan team came with an army of noisy supporters to Croke Park and were beaten by a devastating 5-14 to 0-07, again by Kerry. The huge support was understandable really as Monaghan had just won the Ulster championship for the first time in 41 years with a convincing defeat of Donegal. This followed wins over defending champions Down in the first round and a semi final win over 1977 champions and All-Ireland finalists Armagh in the semi-final. The Ulster final was remembered for Monaghan's Kieran Finlay's personal haul of 1-09, which was a record in an Ulster final for 20 years, until Armagh's Oisin Mc Conville bettered it with a 2-07 tally against Down in the Orchard County's 1999 Ulster final success. Remember the name Finlay as it is Kieran's son Paul who is mentioned further down this page. Another notable feature of the 1979 Ulster final was that the ball was thrown in twice by the referee at the start. After the initial throw in, Donegal had got a point but it was disallowed and the game had to be restarted as the music band hadn't left the field. The Dr McKenna Cup was also won in 1979. Victories in the Ceannarus Tournament against Roscommon and Dublin in 1979 brought gloss to the county's finest year on the football field in almost half a century.
Defeats to Armagh in 1980 and a shockingly disappointing defeat to Down in 1981 in a replay (Down went on to win the Ulster title that year), Tyrone in 1982 left the county feeling as if they were back in the doldrums again.
In 1984 the Centenary Cup final was reached following wins over Limerick, Mayo, Offaly (quarter final) and Derry (semi-final after extra time) The Offaly and Derry games were played in Croke Park as was the final against Meath which Monaghan lost by 0-10 to 0-08. Monaghan also won Division 3 of the N.F.L. that year and lost to Meath in the quarterfinal. A big Ulster championship win over Antrim was "rewarded" with a disappointing 2-08 to 0-09 defeat to Armagh in the semi final.
However 1985 was the county's greatest year to date when a National League final victory against Armagh in 1985 created a momentum that peaked in 1985 when current Louth manager Eamonn McEneaney kicked one of the most spectacular equalizing points in many years from 48 metres out near the sideline beside the Hogan stand to draw the thrilling All Ireland semi-final against Kerry on a scoreline of Monaghan 2-09 to Kerrys 1-12. Kerry won the replay on a 2-09 to 0-10 score.
That National football league title of 1985 was won by Monaghan on a 1-11 to 0-09 score against pre-match favourites Armagh. The game was effectively settled by an Eamon McEneaney penalty in the first half when referee John Gough from Antrim decided that an Armagh defender had taken too many steps in his own penalty area. Armagh got to within a point in the second half but a flurry of exceptional long range points from Bernie Murray, Eamon McEneaney and Ray McCarron brought the trophy to Monaghan for the first time ever. The Ulster championship was also a stirring success. An easy first round victory over Donegal in Castleblayney, marked by a spectacular Eamon Murphy goal, followed by a lucky draw against Armagh in the semi final and one point victory in the replay saw Monaghan meed Derry in the Ulster final. The first day against Armagh, Monaghan relied on pure luck to survive for a draw, as Armagh dominated the game from start to finish, doing everything but score. Paddy Linden saved a penalty, while and Armagh player saw the line barely 30 seconds after coming onto the field as a substitute, following an apparent high tackle on Declan Flanagan. The replay was a better match but a late Armagh goal had Monaghan concerned. However they won by 1-11 to 2-07.
In the Ulster final against Derry Eamon McEneaney helped himself to 2-04 as Monaghan recorded and easy 2-09 to 0-08 win. As stated the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry was a thriller but the absence of David Byrne through injury in the second half probably cost Monaghan victory. Eamon McEneaney's last gasp equaliser was something special but in the replay Kerry were ruthless and despite serious Monaghan pressure the Kingdom won by 5 points. Monaghan's run that year was something special considering the fact that they were missing Declan Loughman, Gerry Hoey and Bernie Murray (all with broken legs). All three were prominent in the National Football League win over Armagh while they would form the spine of the Ulster championship winning side of 1988. It could be argued that with these three players on board, Monaghan could have won the All-Ireland in 1985. Certainly their absence robbed the team of vital strength in depth.
The 1986 league final was reached once more but this time the opposition was Laois. Played in front of over 30,000 supporters the Laoismen edged out Monaghan by 2-06 to 2-05. Monaghan's championship run in 1986 consisted of a draw against Down in Castleblayney thanks to a last gap Eamon McEneaney free while in the replay Down emerged victors in Newcastle on a 2-11 to 0-11 score. A promising season was over before it had begun.
In 1987 the league semi-final was reached again where Monaghan and Kerry played out a thrilling game at Croke Park. A superb second half performance against the wind had Monaghan leading by a couple of points near the end but a Pat Spillane goal and a late point by Mikey Sheehy saw the Kingdom win by 2-11 to 2-09. Monaghan's goals came from Mick O'Dowd and Hugo Clerkin. Disappointment followed in the Ulster championship with a shock 0-14 to 0-12 loss to Cavan in Breffni Park. The early promise of 1985 looked over as two successive seasons of flattering to deceive left the county in a state of gloom.
In 1988 the league semi-final was again reached but ended in a 4-12 to 1-08 drubbing from Dublin in Croke Park. However a good league run prior to that had rescued a season where relegation to Division 2 of the National Football League looked a distinct possibility. A change in management during that league run also added to the merit of the achievement. The 1988 All Ireland semi-final against Cork was even less memorable. Monaghan were holding out against a gale force wind in the first half and were 0-08 to 0-01 behind at the break. Goalkeeper Paddy Linden had saved a penalty from Larry Tompkins. Two early second half points brought Monaghan to within 5 points. A highly controversial goal following an apparent foul on Monaghan's Brendan Murray rocked the Monaghan revival and Cork took over. Linden's display in that match was a significant factor in him being the first Ulster goalkeeper to receive an All-star award that year. As stated the game was decided when Cork scored a dubious goal and the All-Ireland dream died again. With that defeat, the successful team of the mid 80s started to break up.
However 1988 will be remembered for the Ulster title win over Tyrone when a "Nudie" Hughes goal following a fumble by Tyrone keeper Aidan Skelton saw Monaghan win by 1-10 to 0-11. An interesting facet of this particular game was that all Monaghan's scores came from play. Previous wins over Cavan (0-16 to 0-14), again marked by a 5 star performance from Nudie Hughes and Down (1-11 to 0-09) had brought Monaghan to the Ulster final.
In 1989 Monaghan scraped home with an 0-08 to 0-05 win against Antrim in Casement Park, Belfast where the homesters literally kicked the game away. Down ended Monaghan's run in Castleblayney a few weeks later.
The 1990s and early part of the 2000s were lean years for the county. Notable wins in that period were championship successes over Donegal in 1995 and defending All-Ireland champions Armagh in 2003. The Dr McKenna Cup was also won in 1995 against Derry and in 2003 against Tyrone.
Another noticeable effort was a dramatic second half display against Derry in 1992, which saw a 9 point deficit hauled back to earn a draw. Wins were also recorded over Antrim in 1990 and Cavan in 1993 and 1994. After losses to Fermanagh in 1999 and 2000, a win over them was recorded in 2001.
The National Football League run of 1998 was also memorable for Monaghan when they surprisingly qualified from a "group of death" that included Tyrone, Dublin, Kerry, Cavan and Sligo to qualify for the quarter-finals against Down in Croke Park. Behind at one stage early in the second half by 1-05 to 0-02, the Down goal scored by James Mc Cartan, a rousing rally with goals by Darren Swift and Stephen Mc Ginnitty and a spectacular individual point by Peter Duffy saw Monaghan cause a mild surprise with a 2-05 to 1-06 win. The semi final against Derry was less memorable and defeat on a score of 1-12 to 0-08 was the result. The game had a bit of controversy too when a Mark Daly goal was disallowed and a Monaghan player was sent off. It set the tone for a niggly Ulster Senior Football Championship meeting between both sides a few weeks later. Monaghan's Edwin Murphy was sent off on the advice of a linesman but video evidence subsequently cleared him. However it didn't stop Monaghan suffering a heavy defeat on the day to Derry.
1999 was even less memorable at senior level, the big highlight being the county U-21 side winning the Ulster championship with a final success over Donegal thanks to a last gasp super point from Kieran Tavey. The run ended with a 2-10 to 0-08 defeat to eventual champions Westmeath in Croke Park.
At minor level there was an upsurge in fortunes with the county U-18 team reaching the Ulster minor league finals in 2000 and 2002 losing to Tyrone on both occasions by a point. The Ulster championship final was reached in 2001 for the first time in 18 years when a splendid effort fell short with a 2-13 to 0-13 defeat again to Tyrone. A missed penalty late on when only 4 points separated the sides was a big blow, however on reflection it was Monaghan's misfortune to meet Tyrone sides that would backbone their senior All-Ireland winning sides of 2003 and 2005. In 2001 the countys Vocational Schools team won the Ulster and All-Ireland championships.
2005 was another memorable year for the county when they contested the Division 2 National Football League final against Meath at Croke Park. However it took a last gasp point from Paul Finlay in the final league game against Longford in Clones to earn a draw and automatic promotion to Division 1 for the first time in 18 years. The league semi final against Derry in Clones was also a thriller from a Monaghan perspective. A goal within 15 seconds of the throw in by Tommy Freeman set Monaghan on their way and despite Rory Woods being sent off Monaghan held out for a 1-13 to 1-11 win.
The N.F.L. Division 2 final was a thrilling ding dong battle between two well match sides and was full of top drawer scores. It had the 40,000+ crowd on their feet from start to finish. Fortunes ebbed and flowed between both sides and in injury time Meath looked like holding onto a 2 point victory. However a Paul Finlay free with the last kick of the game (sounds familiar) from 40 yards out was deflected into the Meath net by a Meath player and Monaghan edged out 3-13 to 3-12 winners. This game preceded the National Football League final which saw Armagh overcome Wexford to gain their first league title. This marked Monaghan's first visit to Croke Park in 7 years, that resulting in a 1-12 to 0-08 N.F.L. league semi-final defeat to Derry back in 1998.
Derry gained revenge in the Ulster championship with a 1-17 to 2-08 win, but back door wins over London, Wexford and Louth brought Monaghan to a last 12 meeting with eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone in Croke Park. In a very entertaining game the tactic of isolating Tommy Freeman up front caused havoc for Tyrone in the first 25 minutes as they leaked 1-05, the goal a spectacular effort from Freeman. However a shrewd management move from Tyrone resulted in a player being brought back to double mark Freeman and the Farney threat was quashed. On the day Monaghan had no plan "B" and Tyrone took over. They ran out flattering 2-14 to 1-07 winners in the end, limiting Monaghan to a single point from a free in the second half. All the pre match hype surrounded the question as to whether or not Tyrones Ryan McMenamin would be playing having being suspended following an incident in the Ulster final. He missed the game but later returned for the quarter final against Dublin. Freeman's exploits in the summer of 2005 brought him an All-star nomination and an "Irish News" Ulster All star award on the "40".
2006 saw Monaghan compete in Division 1A of the National football league but apart from a win over Dublin and a draw with Offaly, there was little else to celebrate despite battling displays against Kerry and Tyrone and relegation followed in the spring. The season ended in the championship qualifiers with a desperately poor display against Wexford resulting in an 0-08 to 0-06 defeat. The Dr McKenna Cup final was also reached early in the year but ended in a heavy defeat by Tyrone. The Ulster championship started with a 0-10 to 0-10 draw against eventual Ulster champions Armagh in rain soaked Clones. Six days later Armagh emerged victorious on a 1-13 to 0-10 score, the main difference between the sides being that Armagh took their chances and Monaghan didn't. Two missed goal opportunities on the day proved costly. A 2-19 to 3-05 win over Wicklow in the qualifiers saw Monaghan meet Wexford in Clones in what was probably the worst game of 2006. The continuous rain and wet conditions didn't help but it was the performance of the referee that grabbed the headlines on the day. Wexford who had Matty Forde controversially on board following an incident against Offaly for which he would be subsequently suspended won out by 0-08 to 0-06 and thus Monaghan's year ended on a dismal note.
The game was fixed for August 12th 2007, almost 22 years to the day that Eamon Mc Eneaney earned his place in Monaghan folklore for a massive equalising point against the same opposition who were as now defending all-Ireland champions. Monaghan were raging outsiders against the Kingdom where the defending champions were odds on to stroll to a semi final against Dublin. Monaghan started on fire with points from Rory Woods and Tommy Freeman. A 7th minute penalty was awarded to Monaghan when Ciáran Hanratty was dragged down whilst bearing in on the Kerry goals. Tommy Freeman coolly stuck the ball away to give Monaghan a commanding lead in front of 80,000 spellbound spectators. However Kerry fought back to parity at the interval on a 0-08 to 1-05 score.
The second half was a thrilling affair and despite the concession of a slack goal Monaghan led by 2 points entering the final 8 minutes. However a combination of panic and inexperience both on the field and on the line told as Kerry fought back to level terms and go a point in front with a minute left. Monaghan strived might and main for an equalising point but a series of missed passes and downright hard luck proved to be their downfall. It ended in heartbreak on a score of Kerry 1-12, Monaghan 1-11.
A standing ovation was given by the Monaghan supporters to a team that in the words of their manager had left everything they had on the pitch. They gave their all but just came up short. That ended Monaghan's run of 2007 but in terms of the previous 2 decades what a run it was. The county was buzzing again, everywhere was a sea of blue and white and people were proud of their team once more.
Afterwards manager Seamus Mc Eneaney vowed they would be back again in 2008 and as a unit all Monaghan folk hoped they would be, especially team coach/trainer Martin Mc Elkennon, who brought this group from a bunch of also-rans to a team of great potential. On reflection this game was one that got away as it was there for the taking. The only plus was that it would been good enough to have beaten anyone in Ireland but Kerry. It also showed this group of players that they could indeed compete with the best.
Kerry though went back home to the south to prepare for a semi-final meeting with Dublin on August 26th which they duly won by 1-15 to 0-16 to qualify for the final against Munster rivals Cork. This turned out to be a complete mismatch as the Kingdom crushed a very weak Rebel side without ever slipping into top gear.
The eventual champions were quoted many times in the immediate aftermath that their joust with Monaghan had brought them on in leaps and bounds and steeled them sufficiently for the tests against Dublin and Cork. For Monaghan it was a case of a lot done and more to do. Martin Mc Elkennon had the team in superb shape, a fact that received comments from throughout the country. Hopes were high that he would stay on board for 2008 as he was the key to success.
The hopes of the county were realised when Mc Eneaney, Mc Elkennon and Trappe decided to stay on board for 2008 and this was ratified by the county committee in September 2007. The only retiree was kit man Michael Mc Kenna who stepped down for work reasons. A big miss to a solid team. Mc Eneaney promised to freshen things up and raise the bar again for 2008, a year that Monaghan fans are looking forward to with relish. The year finished with Monaghan being awarded 7 Irish News Ulster GAA all-stars but more significantly a Vodafone All-star award for Thomas Freeman at right corner forward. As well as that he was chosen as the Irish News and Ulster GAA writers Ulster gaelic football player of the year. Manager Seamus Mc Eneaney picked up the Ulster GAA writers personality of the year award as well to end 2007 on a high note.