Dublin canter past Monaghan to set up semi-final date with Tyrone
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-19 Monaghan 0-12
RARELY has a stadium full of people so yearned for a game of football to break out as at Croke Park just before 6pm on Saturday evening.
For those who had already sat through Tyrone’s utterly one-sided demolition job on Armagh, it was with hope – verging on desperation - that Monaghan’s chances of pulling off an upset were talked up before the second game threw in.
By 6.20pm, an already hushed arena assumed an eerie, almost funereal quiet, punctuated only by half-hearted cheers from the Hill as Dublin, without barely breaking sweat, moved into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead.
There was still 70 minutes left to play, sure anything could happen. But it was never going to.
This game was over, just at it had been so early in the curtain-raiser - the two dampest of squibs leaving punters wondering what it was all about witnessing 18 and 10 point quarter-final processions.
The only faint shaft of light left to cling to was that, if nobody else was going to test Tyrone or Dublin, at least they might test each other in three weeks’ time.
On Saturday, it was neither a case that Dublin were so good or Monaghan so bad, more a feeling that both were going through the motions as the game edged painstakingly towards its all-too-predictable conclusion.
The Farneymen came into the game having failed to hit their stride at any stage during the summer, and plotting their course through the Qualifiers looked to have taken a physical toll.
Karl O’Connell, star turn against Down the week previous, and the Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, needed to have huge games if Malachy O’Rourke’s men were to have any chance.
None of the three made any impact on proceedings, O’Connell eventually withdrawn after 44 minutes while James McCarthy and Brian Fenton bossed midfield when it mattered.
As was the case in the League game in Clones, Michael Fitzsimons kept a close watch on Conor McManus, though he did have the luxury of having Jonny Cooper and Cian O’Sullivan hovering just in front.
Jack McCarron gave Dublin hell back in March, but it was an entirely different story on Saturday. Had his second minute effort drifted inside the upright, rather than just outside, he may have caught fire after a frustrating Championship campaign, but we’ll never know.
It’s easy to be wise after the event, but perhaps O’Rourke might rue the decision not to start Conor McCarthy. After his hugely impressive cameo against the Mournemen, the Scotstown livewire came on before half-time and provided an attacking spark that had been sadly absent when the game was in its early stages.
On his return to the starting 15 after injury, Jonny Cooper had coasted through the first 35 minutes, playing the role of agitator-in-chief as he got in the faces of McManus and Colin Walshe on different occasions.
But after the break the Na Fianna full-back was forced to stretch his legs as he found himself eating McCarthy’s dust, the Farney sub firing over three points from play, following on from the four registered seven days before.
Unfortunately for Monaghan and O’Rourke, even by then it was too little, too late.
They were eight down already at the break, with Paul Mannion opening the scoring inside 30 second after giving Ryan Wylie the slip.
Indeed it wasn’t until the half hour mark that Monaghan got their first from play, Colin Walshe bursting forward to slot between the posts.
That made it 0-9 to 0-2 for the back-to-back All-Ireland champions, with Paddy Andrews, Jack McCaffrey, Con O’Callaghan, another from Mannion and four frees from Rock doing the damage.
Even with Monaghan crowding the middle - they barely contested a Stephen Cluxton kick-out all game - the Dubs remained patient, working the ball out to the wings and back inside when opportunities presented themselves.
Perhaps because of the exertions of recent weeks, Monaghan didn’t have the legs to keep up.
James McCarthy’s athleticism was the catalyst for so many attacks, while the clever kick-passing of midfield partner Brian Fenton was a joy to behold at times.
Conor McCarthy started the second half like a house on fire, scoring twice inside the opening three minutes, but any lingering hopes of the most unlikely of comebacks were extinguished when Rock landed the only goal of the game 41 minutes in.
It arrived when Walshe misjudged the flight of a long punt forward and fumbled it into the path of Andrews who fist passed across the square for the inrushing Rock to palm beyond Beggan. Easy as you like.
The sight of Bernard Brogan bounding into the fray a minute later - fresh from his five-point haul in the Leinster final - is unlikely to have lifted Monaghan spirits either.
Luckily for them, the four-time Allstar had a rare night to forget in front of goal.
Brogan got his first of two sniffs after 51 minutes when Mannion found him in space on the corner of the square.
It was exactly the kind of scoring opportunity that has been his meat and drink for years, yet Rory Beggan stood tall and diverted his goalbound effort around the post.
Two minutes later Brogan found himself in a similar position and was ready to pull the trigger, only for a brilliant intervention from Kieran Duffy to spare the Farneymen further indignity on the scoreboard.
Eoghan O’Gara, sprung from the bench with a quarter of an hour left, also spurned a late chance to ripple the back of the net when, off balance, his shot careered wide of Beggan’s post.
Perhaps Jim Gavin will make a play of this profligacy in front of goal when he searches for creases to iron out ahead of their much-anticipated showdown against the Red Hands, because he will have found little else in which to pick holes.
Cluxton was able to enjoy a handy enough night to mark his 89th Championship appearance, though he did produce superb stops from McCarron and Owen Duffy to ensure he passed into the record books with a clean sheet beside his name.
And it is probably for the Dublin goalkeeper’s historic achievement, rather than the game itself, that this occasion will be brought up in conversation beyond the weekend past.
The next time Dublin and Tyrone roll into Croke Park they will find a different kind of animal awaiting them and, after Saturday’s fare, the prospect of a game for the ages is something for which we can only be thankful.
Roll on August 27.
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, C O'Sullivan, M Fitzsimons; J Cooper, J Small, E Lowndes; J McCarthy (0-1), B Fenton; C Kilkenny, C O’Callaghan (0-1), J McCaffrey (0-1); P Mannion (0-3), P Andrews (0-3), D Rock (1-8, 0-7 frees, 0-1 45)
Subs: B Brogan for Lowndes (42), D Daly for Small (51), P Flynn (0-1) for McCarthy (51), E O’Gara (0-1) for Andrews (54), MD Macauley for Kilkenny (58), D Byrne for Cooper (61)
Yellow card: McCarthy (3)
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1, free); F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe (0-1), K Duffy, K O’Connell (0-1); K Hughes, D Hughes (0-1); G Doogan, D Ward, S Carey; R McAnespie (0-1), J McCarron, C McManus (0-4, frees)
Subs: C McCarthy (0-3) for G Doogan (36, first half), O Duffy for Ward (HT), V Corey for R Wylie (44), D Mone for O’Connell (44), D Malone for Carey (56), N McAdam for D Hughes (63), F Kelly (72, no subs left)
Yellow cards: McManus (26), D Wylie (33), Carey (40), D Hughes (45)
Referee: C Lane (Cork)