Monaghan hoping to make things difficult for Dublin
Jim Gavin’s men to gain more experience of coping against a blanket defence
Jim Gavin: won’t be entirely put out by another game where his side have to test each brick in the wall to find the loose one. Photo: Ryan Moore/Inpho
The surprisingly easy-to-offend cognoscenti of Hill 16 may just have to suck it up here. Nothing about Monaghan’s future prospects will be enhanced by coming to Croke Park and taking a third tanning in a row so it won’t be a huge surprise if it turns out that a goodly portion of their week in Portugal was spent practising bus-parking. If that means a chorus of boos from the terracing, so be it.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side have improved beyond expectation in the three seasons he’s been in charge but they unquestionably have their limits.
Much like in the era when Tommy Freeman led the line for them, Monaghan are damned by the lack of a second scorer to go along with Conor McManus.
Kieran Hughes has never quite matched his prodigious ball-winning abilities with calm enough decision-making whereas Paul Finlay’s enduring class is more of a long-distance, two-points-a-game sort of thing.
And while the sum total of the team effort across 70 minutes will usually make them desperately hard to beat, their problem against a team like Dublin is that they’re meeting a side whose natural game takes away the things they do well.
Monaghan get players back and tackle like demons, Dublin have Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn to kick points from distance. Monaghan keep games tight with a view to winning them in the closing 10 minutes, Dublin go 1-2 to 0-0 up after three minutes like they did in Clones last week and the game is over before it’s begun.
Jim Gavin won’t be entirely put out by another game where his side have to test each brick in the wall to find the loose one. They’re going to have to do it at least once on the way to an All-Ireland so they may as well get the practice in.
So far this spring, the clearest indication of how they are going to approach the task is that they intend to mirror their opposition and take it from there. Fight blanket with blanket. The lesson of two Donegal matches last year – their own semi-final defeat and Kerry’s final victory – have been well-learned.
An extra two games will suit Gavin just now. Dublin are fighting their natural instincts with this new shape and along the way, a few players are fighting for form. Ciarán Kilkenny hasn’t had the happiest return from injury, Michael Darragh Macauley’s absence was felt for longer than he or his manager would have liked.
Plus, there’s still no real clarity as to who will start beside him in midfield come championship time.
For all that, they are on course for a third league title in a row, something no Dublin team has ever managed before. They have Monaghan’s number and any notion that they won’t make it through to another league final here looks fairly implausible.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O’Connell; N McAdam, D Hughes; D Mone, P Finlay, O Duffy; D Malone, K Hughes, C McManus.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O’Carroll, PMcMahon, J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey, D Bastick, C O’Sullivan, P Flynn D Connolly, B Fenton, C Kilkenny, D Rock B Brogan.