Dublin 0-17 Monaghan 2-12
This is the only foolproof way to beat Dublin – score the go-ahead point as the clock ticks past the last minute of injury-time and have the referee blow the final whistle on the kick-out. Monaghan players were scurrying hither-and-yon to try to cover off Evan Comerford's angles after Fintan Kelly's 74th-minute shot had gone between the posts when David Gough spread his arms wide with the ball barely airborne. Monaghan's first ever win over Dublin in Croke Park, sealed so late the Dubs could do nothing about it.
In the greater scheme of things, of course, the result meant nothing. Dublin were already in the league final and played out this round seven dead rubber without Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper and Ciarán Kilkenny, to name just three of the mainstays of their campaign so far. Monaghan didn't quite go full-bore either, leaving Jack McCarron, Colin Walshe and Ryan Wylie off from the start – although all three came on as the game progressed and each made an impact.
But beating Dublin is still beating Dublin – of the Monaghan side that lined out here, only the evergreen Vinny Corey has been on the winning side against them before, a point-scorer in their last victory against the Dubs in Parnell Park in 2006.
This is Corey’s 16th season in a Monaghan jersey and his raiding 1-1 from the half-back line was crucial in seeing his side leave Croke Park with the points. Dublin haven’t lost a group game in the league at headquarters since March 2014; Monaghan needed every bit of what they brought here to end that streak.
“This time last year we ran Dublin very close and then conceded a couple of goals late on,” said Malachy O’Rourke afterwards. “They ended up winning the game. We were hoping, if it came to a close finish again, we’d show a wee bit more composure and I’m glad we did that. So hopefully we’ve learned a bit of a lesson out of it.
“But look, we won’t get carried away. Dublin hadn’t their full team, the points really weren’t that important to anyone, so we’ll keep it all in context. But happy with aspects of the performance. Dublin have a tremendous record in Croke Park. The points weren’t going to make any difference, but we wanted to test ourselves against Dublin. There’s no doubt, it does give you a wee bit of confidence when you beat a team like Dublin. So we’ll take the positives out of it.”
Beyond the endorphin-rush of the win, it’s hard to know exactly what those positives will be. This was a game played at a snail’s pace for most of the afternoon, the crowd of 22,085 mostly talking amongst themselves up until the final quarter. But for the ending, it’s a fair bet most of those present would have forgotten it by the time they got home.
Corey got in for Monaghan's first goal after 13 minutes, stealing goalside of James McCarthy to fasten onto a lovely Owen Duffy pass and finish low past Comerford at the Hill 16 end. Dean Rock and Conor McCarthy swapped frees, Conor McManus and Brian Howard swapped impressive scores from distance but otherwise the first half had little to shout about. The sides went in level at the break, Dublin 0-8 Monaghan 1-5.
The second half was more of the same, with fits and starts of quality thrown in. Kieran Hughes did a stint on the edge of the square for Monaghan and fashioned a couple of scores off high balls, Colm Basquel and Niall Scully got in for smart finishes at the other end. Overall, the game was meandering to the inevitable two- or three-point Dublin win before McCarron entered the fray with 15 minutes to go.
His goal on 66 minutes was a small piece of heaven. He was on his knees when collecting a pass from the industrious Ryan McAnespie on the 20-metre lone and stole a look at Comerford as he got to his feet, noting the Dublin goalkeeper had advanced a little too quickly. His chip sailed over Comerford and into the far corner, putting Monaghan all of a sudden 2-10 to 0-15 ahead.
From there, they tit-for-tatted scores until the end and it was a matter of who was ahead when the music stopped. Brian Fenton stitched a brilliant score at one end, McCarron came back with another, before the excellent Howard saw his bet. All that was left was for Kelly to see it and raise it and Monaghan took the pot.
"We pride ourselves on the fundamentals of our game – the skills, kick-passing, hand-passing, and we did turn the ball over quite a lot today, which won't be good enough going forward," said Jim Gavin afterwards.
“But you couldn’t deny the great scores that Monaghan got in the second half, and they’ve some fantastic forwards. They play a very balanced game of football and we knew it was going to be a really tough game, as all our games against Monaghan have been. It was a great score to win the game for them.”
DUBLIN: Evan Comerford; Mick Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon (0-2), David Byrne (0-1); John Small (0-1), James McCarthy, Darren Daly; Brian Fenton (0-2), Shane Carthy; Niall Scully (0-1), Cormac Costello, Brian Howard (0-2); Dean Rock (0-7, five frees), Conor McHugh, Kevin McManamon.
Subs: Michael Darragh Macauley for Carthy, Colm Basquel (0-1) for McManamon (both 44 mins); Eoin Murchan for Daly, Paddy Small For McHugh (both 54); Emmet Ó Conghaile for Costello (64).
MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan; Dessie Mone (0-1), Conor Boyle, Vinny Corey (1-1); Ryan Wylie, Drew Wylie, Karl O'Connell (0-1); Darren Hughes, Niall Kearns; Paudie McKenna, Owen Duffy, Ryan McAnespie (0-1); Conor McCarthy (0-3, two frees), Kieran Hughes (0-1), Conor McManus (0-2, one free).
Subs: Fintan Kelly (0-1) for McKenna, Dessie Ward for Duffy (both 47 mins); Colin Walshe for Mone (b/c); Jack McCarron (1-1) for McCarthy (both 56); Neil McAdam for Kearns (59).
Referee: David Gough (Meath)