Dublin in cruise control as they ease into semi-final

Writing on the wall for Monaghan early on as their challenge is quickly snuffed out

Dublin 1-19 Monaghan 0-12

Reaching the All-Ireland football quarter-finals used to confer membership of an elite club. Barring disaster, being involved in and around the August Bank Holiday was a badge of honour. In recent years though, it has become more characteristic of the championship that the real stuff doesn't start until the semi-finals.

Accordingly, Saturday's full house in Croke Park witnessed ceremonial events rather than competitive matches.

Both victories had essential aspects in common: methodical, early pressure that turned the scoreboard into a death certificate as early as the first quarter, confidence draining from the underdogs and not surprisingly an element of sloppiness entering the attitudes of Tyrone and Dublin.


The All-Ireland champions have been trailing the competitive inadequacies of the Leinster championship for a few years at this stage but gradually the quarter-finals have become practice rounds as well.

So it proved on Saturday. The greatest significance of the match was probably Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton breaking the championship appearance record by taking his place in goal for the 89th time.

Whereas it looked for the first half that his presence was purely ritual, he had to earn his corn in the second half with a couple of fine saves from Jack McCarron and Owen Duffy – further indication of how good his shot-stopping has been this season.

Otherwise there was some relentless spells of sustained possession and some outstanding dead ball kicking by Dean Rock – responding emphatically to the impressive outing for understudy Con O’Callaghan in the Leinster final after Rock had received an early black card.

O'Callaghan didn't repeat that Man of the Match performance but he was busy and efficient and if he will regret not netting a one-on-one goal chance in 20th minute – Paddy Andrews miscued the follow-up – he survived his first exposure of the championship to a Division One blanket defence, albeit a bit threadbare, with another good display linking play and zealously working back.

Eventually disintegrated

Monaghan’s problem was that despite being set up to restrict the champions and play to the strengths of Conor McManus and Jack McCarron in a two-man full-forward line the plan began to fray and eventually disintegrated because Dublin helped themselves to a sequence of scores and the attack, requiring maximum efficiency, wasn’t clinical enough.

Malachy O’Rourke’s team have troubled Dublin in the past and should have beaten them as recently as April’s league encounter in Clones but they need to be optimising the challenge. The backs gave away too many frees, which given Rock’s form was like kicking the ball over their own bar whereas the strike forwards didn’t.

McCarron, back in the team after his probationary removal from the previous week’s qualifier, was given the opportunity to rediscover the league form – the zenith of which was his 1-9 against Dublin – that suggested he could take some of the strain Conor McManus has monopolised in the Monaghan attack.

But despite winning some good possession, his shooting was awry and he returned no score and three wides. Even McManus who has in the past defied gravity by tying up entire Dublin defences, couldn’t make it happen this time around.

Michael Fitzsimons and Philip McMahon marked well on the inside line, leaving Jonny Cooper and Cian O'Sullivan to sweep in front, making it a tall order for Monaghan to find glimpses of opportunity.

Conor McCarthy came in for Monaghan before half-time, replacing sweeper Gavin Doogan, as O’Rourke tried to reel the match back within view. McCarthy whose form off the bench has been good, kicked two points on the resumption and added a third but any hint of a comeback was dismissed in the 40th minute by Dublin’s goal.

Quick free

Brian Fenton, having planted a free into Andrews behind the defence only to have it called back by referee Conor Lane, on the resumption simply repeated the trick and Andrews again gave the defence the slip before squaring the ball over for Rock to tip into the net for 1-13 to 0-5.

Exacerbating the disappointment of McCarron’s chance – also created by a quick free – being saved was Dublin’s response. Within seven seconds, they had countered and Paddy Andrews fired over a point to make it 1-14 to 0-6.

There were mixed fortunes for Dublin's much-feared replacements bench. It will have come as a relief for Jim Gavin that Michael Darragh Macauley, who put in an encouragingly robust cameo, and Paul Flynn, who kicked a point, both returned after length injuries.

Eoghan O’Gara was is great from in his customary, awkward full forward role. He won ball, kicked a point and laid off passes to others, who didn’t always capitalise.

It was disappointing for Bernard Brogan after his five-point volley in the Leinster final to be held scoreless and see a clear goal chance saved by Rory Beggan.

Overall though Dublin continue to show incremental improvement. The selection of both Eric Lowndes and Jack McCaffrey may been inspired by the projected demands of the Tyrone semi-final and they certainly bring pace and energy to the middle third.

Shooting will have to be worked on – 12 wides – but some allowance can be made for the way any urgency leaked out of the match as it progressed.

There’ll be considerably fewer margins for error in three weeks.

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton; 5 J Cooper, 4 M Fitzsimons, 2 P McMahon; 6 J Small (0-1), 3 C O'Sullivan, 12 J McCaffrey (0-1); 7 E Lowndes, 11 C O'Callaghan (0-1), 10 C Kilkenny; 8 B Fenton, 9 J McCarthy (0-1); 13 P Mannion (0-3), 14 P Andrews (0-3), 15 D Rock (1-7,  six frees, one 45).

Subs: 17 B Brogan for Lowndes (41 mins), 20 D Daly for Small (50 mins), 21 P Flynn (0-1) for McCarthy (50 mins), 25 E O'Gara (0-1) for Andrews (54 mins), 23 MD Macauley for Kilkenny (57 mins), 18 D Byrne for Cooper (60 mins).

MONAGHAN: 1 R Beggan. (0-1, free); 3 D Wylie, 5 C Walshe (0-1), 4 R Wylie; 6 K Duffy, 2 F Kelly, 7 K O'Connell (0-1); 8 K Hughes, 9 D Hughes (0-1); 22 D Ward, 12 S Carey, 13 R McAnespie (0-1); 15 C McManus (0-4, three frees), 26 J McCarron, 10 G Doogan.

Subs: 25 C McCarthy (0-3) for Doogan (35 mins), 23 O Duffy for Ward (half-time), 20 V Corey for R Wylie (44 mins), 21 D Mone for O'Connell (44 mins), 11 D Malone for Carey (56 mins), 17 N McAdam for D Hughes (63 mins), D Wylie withdrawn (72 mins; suspected concussion).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times