Monaghan come to Croke Park this evening having had a good year. They might not have retained the Ulster title but have returned to Division One and are back in the All-Ireland quarter-finals having won a championship match in today's venue for the first time in 84 years.
However, it’s hard to see where it goes from here.
The more hopeful scenarios for Monaghan include a belief that packed defence is very difficult for even the most fluent attacks to crack. It’s expected that Malachy O’Rourke’s team will adopt the strategy, one at which they’re well practised although there’s a valid argument that excessive caution undermined their Ulster final challenge.
According to the theory, Dublin become frustrated and Monaghan counterattack with accuracy, get ball into Conor McManus and Chris McGuinness and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Last week’s win over Kildare showed exceptional character, but it’s hard to see the relevance for today apart from maybe more bad weather. For a start Monaghan’s set-up wasn’t as cautious as it’s likely to be today, as could be seen by the manner of the goals conceded. And, secondly, Kildare were more cautious than Dublin will be – and less accurate.
The trouble with trying to create congestion in order to limit Dublin’s attacks is that it makes it hard for a team to score and gives the champions too much uncontested space.
Derry had some success defending deep in the regulation league match against Dublin
– one of the latter’s two defeats in the spring – but when they tried to operate a similar damage limitation scheme in the league final, they found the opposition well able to exploit the runways of space abandoned in their own half.
Even in conventional matches Dublin’s half backs sit forward to facilitate swift counterattacking so gifting them the same space is taking a chance.
Defensive systems can sometimes be presented as an antidote to heedless attacking or dilettante football but the less obvious capabilities of Dublin are more to do with artisanship rather than artistry.
In an interview last month Paul Flynn, an All Star forward for the past three years, talked about tackling as a metric for intensity. His half-forward partner Diarmuid Connolly, one of the most technically gifted footballers in the country, hasn't enjoyed the best of form in the recent championship matches but could justify his selection on work-rate alone. They're also two of the best long-range kickers in the game.
The industry will be needed, as Monaghan use their half backs as a platform of penetrative attacks. Dessie Mone must be the most consistent wing back in the game over the past couple of years and will drive forward from defence and on turnover ball.
Discipline is also going to be important. In attack Dublin mustn't allow themselves to be wound up by close attentions and their backs have to be tidy with McManus, Paul Finlay and from distance Rory Beggan on hand to kick frees.
There also have to be reservations about Monaghan's mobility at centrefield. For all that Darren Hughes and Dick Clerkin are a clever and experienced pairing, Mayo found last year that getting to grips with Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs and the runs of Michael Darragh Macauley and O'Sullivan can be exhausting.
This is set for the biggest crowd of the year with up to 70,000. A feisty display from Monaghan is in store but the challengers can’t stretch for 70 minutes without tearing