Champions almost slayed by classy Jack McCarron

Holders recover from a six-point deficit to reach a fifth successive league final

Monaghan 1-15 Dublin 2-15

We wouldn’t want artificially to exaggerate the crime rate by describing what happened in Clones on Sunday before 13,227 witnesses as a robbery but the fact is that Dublin didn’t lead at any stage until the clock had ticked into injury time.

Admittedly, by then the match was back in play, as the All-Ireland champions had twice trailed by six in the third quarter, but a spirited Monaghan side, powered by an irresistible display from in-form Jack McCarron – 1-5 from play – were battling all the way down the final straight.

Dublin got 2-1 from the replacements' bench and the decisive score came after smart interplay between James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey to leave the latter in on goal, and he finished emphatically past Rory Beggan to put the visitors 2-14 to 1-14 ahead. Fintan Kelly and Bernard Brogan swapped points in what remained of the match.


So Dublin’s unbeaten record stays spinning after 36 matches, as the county heads to Croke Park for next week’s final against Kerry, late beneficiaries of the typically fluctuating fortunes on the last day of the regulation league season.

Manager Jim Gavin didn't appear best pleased by the afternoon. "The first thing to say is that we wouldn't be happy with that performance at all. To put ourselves in that position – to be six points down with the third quarter just gone – wouldn't be acceptable. If we play like that again we'll have disappointing days ahead.

“Once again you couldn’t but praise the Dublin players’ effort and their resilience and the grit they showed again today.”

Recent fixtures between the counties have varied between routs and tight, one-score matches and pretty quickly it was clear that this was unlikely to be a rout.

Monaghan got in front and stayed in front. They had to cope with the early loss of two important players as former All Star defender Colin Walshe's wretched luck with injuries struck again and a calf muscle strain forced him off after 20 minutes.  Ten minutes later Darren Hughes, up until then in a lively centrefield partnership with brother Kieran, picked up a black card for a trip on Brian Fenton that appeared on first viewing to lack the necessary intent. Hewas replaced by Kieran Duffy.

Swirling wind

Dublin’s forwards faced twin difficulties in the early stages: a swirling wind that played havoc with some of the shooting, Dean Rock’s place kicking particularly affected; and an alert and a well-organised defence that was all over them like ivy.

But the wind wasn't to blame when Rock fumbled a pass from Niall Scully that sought to place him in on goal and the ball ran wide. Monaghan were more productive and landed some fine points from Kieran Hughes and the excellent Karl O'Connell, whose pace and stamina taxed even McCarthy and McCaffrey.

Dublin made up a three-point, first-quarter deficit, as they began to find opportunities and the match settled into tit-for-tat scoring up until half-time, although Rock again nearly had a goal but Beggan saved well at the cost of 45 – a cheque impossible to cash in the prevailing conditions.

At the end of the match, Gavin was asked had this been the greatest of Dublin’s league escapes – the reason for the question was Monaghan’s performance just after half-time.

Ciarán Reddin had no sooner equalised at 0-7 apiece than the home team stuck 1-2. McCarron made the most significant breakthrough in the 40th minute, shooting superbly to the net after Conor McManus and Owen Duffy had prised open the Dublin backline.

With the score at 0-8 to 1-10, McCarron struck again with a ball he had just saved from going wide and with nothing apparently on, he squeezed over from a tight angle. Dublin resolutely left David Byrne on the rampant forward whose running total over five league matches now stands at 3-29, 3-12 from play. A couple of minutes later he completed a move by Gavin Doogan and Owen Duffy with a point that felt like the last piece in a jigsaw.


Making things worse,

Diarmuid Connolly

, on his second appearance of the campaign as a second-half replacement, had lasted less than 15 minutes before a black card forced his withdrawal after he had hauled down O’Connell in the 49th minute.

“When you’re six points up you always hope you’d be able to see it through,” said Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke. “But Dublin are a quality team. They’ve come back from that of deficit before.”

In retrospect, it didn’t take the comeback kings very long to demolish the margin. The score went from 0-9 to 1-12 to 1-11 to 1-12 in six minutes – Brogan’s clinical finish rounded off good approach work by Ciarán Kilkenny for the 48th-minute goal.

Thereafter, although there was a sort of inevitability about Dublin completing the recovery, it still took until the 68th minute for Rock to kick the levelling free.

“I’m very proud of the boys,” O’Rourke said afterwards. “Our playing resources would be a lot smaller than many other counties; to be fair, the boys put in a great shift in this league. Our first priority was to stay in Division One and we did that fairly comfortably, so overall it has been a good league campaign.”

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton; 3 M Fitzsimons, 4 D Byrne, 2 P McMahon (0-1); 5 J McCarthy (0-2), 9 C Reddin (0-2), 7 E Lowndes; 8 B Fenton (0-1), 19 C Kilkenny (0-1); 10 P Flynn, 11 K McManamon, 12 N Scully; 13 D Rock (0-5, frees), 14 P Andrews (0-2) , 24 C McHugh.

Subs: 15 B Brogan (1-1) for McHugh (35 mins), 23 D Connolly for Scully (half-time), 22 J McCaffrey (1-0) for Reddin (41 mins), 21 P Mannion for McManamon (47 mins), 6 C O’Sullivan for Connolly (50 mins, bc), 20 MD Macauley for Flynn (65 mins).

MONAGHAN: 1 R Beggan; 2 F Kelly (0-1), 4 R Wylie, 3 D Wylie (capt.); 7 K O'Connell (0-1), 19 V Corey, 26 C Walshe; 8 D Hughes, 9 K Hughes (0-2); 5 D Ward, 11 S Carey, 12 G Doogan; 13 O Duffy (0-1), 14 J McCarron (1-9, four frees), 15 C McManus (0-1, free).

Subs: 6 N McAdam for Walshe (20 mins), 23 K Duffy for D Hughes (30 mins, bc), 18 D Malone for O Duffy (54 mins), 22 T Kerr for McManus (58 mins), 24 C McCarthy for Doogan (68 mins).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times