Champions and Donegal look destined for a last-four date
Dublin’s pace and the power of their bench should wear down Monaghan
Monaghan’s Dessie Mone: could be largely confined to defensive duties against Dublin’s rampant attack. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
I read with interest Niall Moyna’s comments here during the week on the likely physical impact on Monaghan of last week’s qualifier win over Kildare but there’s no question about the massive psychological boost they’ll take from winning a championship match at Croke Park.
That win, the manner of it and the use of so many players to contribute to it, highlighted Monaghan’s great strengths under Malachy O’Rourke: the mental resolve and quality of leadership on the pitch, which could be seen in the displays of Drew Wylie, Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey, both of the Hugheses and Conor McManus.
I think this evening will suit them. They’re underdogs and not under any real pressure but have the advantage of being familiar with their surroundings and also what exactly they have to do, which is to set up very defensively.
That’s easier said than done against Dublin because it will require a level of concentration that wasn’t always in evidence against Kildare.
Exceptional displayFor instance, Dessie Mone gave an exceptional display at wing back but he was at his most effective counterattacking. While that will again be important, all of the Monaghan backs will have to prioritise defence today.
The obvious tactic for Jim Gavin is to pick up their usual intensity from the throw-in and put real pace on their play early on to test Monaghan’s ability to maintain a high-tempo game from the start. They’ll go man-to-man in defence, which can create opportunities for McManus, who’s used to being double-teamed.
Dublin haven’t faced opposition as comfortable with ultra defence over the past two years. Neither have they played a top-quality team so far this summer.
This evening they’re up against a side that won Ulster last year and has been consistently competitive against the top teams in that province.
But Dublin’s list of positives is too long. They’ve been playing football at a higher intensity than anyone all year and maintaining it for longer in matches. They’ll bring subs off the bench who’ll keep things going relentlessly but technically they’ve been also been excellent.
Their accuracy has improved, both in terms of scoring and also the quality of kick passing out of defence, which sets up quicker attacks and enables opposition systems to be broken down more effectively.
They’re also playing with great width and the spread of scorers has improved so that they’re even less reliant than last year on Bernard Brogan to pull rabbits out of the hat.
I feel that Monaghan will probably want to put a wall across their ‘45’ to stop Dublin breaking through the middle from Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs, typically with a runner taking a ball off the receiver and opening up space for other attackers.
Monaghan will want to force Dublin into lateral movements and cut out the direct running of players, especially Kevin McManamon, which can be devastating. In the end though, I can’t see Monaghan having the concentration and stamina to stay with Dublin’s pace and the power of their bench in the latter stages.
I was most impressed with how Armagh went about their business last Saturday. Their defensive set-up was clinically effective and they also displayed high skill levels in such poor conditions – handling, kicking and score-taking.
It would be foolish to write them off even though this is a big step-up in class and they can’t afford the drop-off in concentration they suffered in the middle of the Meath match.
I was sceptical about Donegal before the Ulster final because I think they’re still short of the performance levels of two years ago – but I’d have to admit they’re getting closer.
Players like the McGees, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty are getting back to top form but Colm McFadden hasn’t found that form to date. I was also surprised at Donegal’s energy levels and, after a contest, I expect them to advance today.