“They’re not afraid of the big teams and you saw that, they didn’t crumble coming up against the All-Ireland champions.” Vinny Corey’s new-look Monaghan display the same old grit to see off Dublin

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Monaghan's Micheál Bannigan tries to get away from Dublin's Cian Murphy during the Allianz Football League Division One match at Croke Park on Saturday
Allianz National Football League, Division 1: Monaghan 3-9 Dublin 1-14

The constant fear with Monaghan was what would happen when their golden generation of iconic talents weren’t around.

No Conor McManus, no Hughes brothers, no Rory Beggan, no Conor McCarthy? No problem. There was no Conor Boyle on Saturday either as he has opted out for the season while Fintan Kelly and Shane Carey have retired.

AFL recruit Karl Gallagher wasn't around also while Sean Jones and Dessie Ward are nursing injuries. Ryan McAnespie went off with a fresh injury as well.

In the circumstances, Monaghan shouldn't have stood a chance but the Farney supply line is in rude health and has thrown out some exciting new talents.

Ciaran McNulty grabbed his opportunity with both hands, punishing a rare Brian Fenton error in Dublin's defence with a terrific breakaway score deep into stoppage time to win it.

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Vinny Corey's much changed Monaghan side showed no fear against Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday night

Earlier he'd struck a goal to ignite their bid for an unlikely win over the All-Ireland champions. Darren McDonnell, replacing Beggan in goals, did a stand up job too while Michael Hamill, Andrew Woods and Stephen Mooney played their parts too.

So much for understrength Monaghan being certs to finally get relegated this year.

“We’re probably just used to that,” said boss Vincent Corey of being tipped to struggle.

“It’s another year, it’s the same talk. The boys really pass no remarks to be honest with you. There’s a lot of boys who have a lot of experience of Division One and there’s new players who aren’t afraid of Division 1.

"They're not afraid of the big teams and you saw that, they didn't crumble coming up against the All-Ireland champions. But it's a tight, tight division.

"We've threaded the line in it a few times. We've pulled it close (to relegation) in the past. Listen, we don't know what the rest of the league will bring. We don't know what way results will go but we'll take it a game at a time."

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Monaghan manager Vinny Corey

That lack of fear was evident in Monaghan's play all evening. Some of it may be down to their good league record against the Dubs. When the sides last met in Division 1, in March of 2022, Monaghan won that one too and relegated Dessie Farrell's crew.

It’s also down to the fact that Monaghan possess exciting talents who love to run straight at defenders. Stephen O’Hanlon was the standout performer, punching holes in Dublin’s defence all evening.

Hamill ran hard at the Dublin back line too while Woods and Mooney added more devilment when they came on.

“The aim is always to get to safety as quickly as possible,” said Corey when asked what his expectations are for the new look group.

"We have two points on the board but it's a long way to get six, a lot of twists and turns and we know that."

McDonnell was under a particular focus in goals, replacing Beggan. Aside from a point from a long free, he pulled off an important early save and distributed well enough to suggest he can provide adequate cover if Beggan is snapped up as an NFL kicker.

"It was maybe a gamble of sorts, especially when Rory is still around, but it's the sort of thing that if you can play in front of Hill 16, if you can play in Croke Park, then you can play anywhere and I think Darren came through," said Corey.

Wasteful early play - five kicks landed in the Dublin goalkeeper's arms, another hit the post and there were three first-half wides - allowed Dublin to run up a 1-4 to 0-2 lead.

Cormac Costello sniped the Dublin goal but the hosts struggled to contain Monaghan’s directness. Hamill won a penalty after driving at Dublin defenders Greg McEneaney and Cian Murphy and being fouled. Jack McCarron did the needful from the spot.

Then Micheal Bannigan burst past Jack McCaffrey on the right wing and fed O'Hanlon who darted through the centre and smashed to the net.

Somehow, it was a draw at half-time, 2-2 to 1-5, and the second-half was even better. O’Hanlon almost scored another beauty after a long solo run and Monaghan eventually got their third goal through McNulty.

Corey liked the central role that greenhorn performers played in the gutsy win.

They’ll be back at it next weekend against Kerry, a home tie in Clones. That’s the same Kerry that lost to Derry, similar to the Kingdom’s round one defeat to Donegal last year.

“They came and hammered us by 11 points,” recalled Corey of last year’s round two encounter with Kerry.

“They’ll be hoping to do the same. There’s a lot of difficult days ahead of us but we’ll meet them head on.”

Dublin won't panic despite the loss. Dessie Farrell only started seven of his All-Ireland final team with Stephen Cluxton, John Small, Brian Howard, Paul Mannion and Michael Fitzsimons still to return.

"Monaghan sat back a little bit and hit us on counter-attacks," said Farrell. "They were good in that situation."

Monaghan: D McDonnell (0-1 free); R O’Toole, K Lavelle, R Wylie; R McAnespie, K Duffy, K Loughran; J Wilson, G Mohan; S O’Hanlon (1-1), M Bannigan (0-3, 0-2 frees), M Hamill; D Garland, J McCarron (1-2, 1pen), J Irwin.
Subs: C McNulty (1-1) for McAnespie 32, S Mooney for Garland 46, A Woods (0-1) for McCarron 57, K O'Connell for Wylie 57, C Lennon for Irwin 68.
Dublin: D O’Hanlon (0-1 free); L Gannon, S MacMahon, E Murchan (0-1); G McEneaney, C Murphy (0-1), J McCaffrey; B Fenton, C Kilkenny (0-1); P Small (0-1), L O’Dell, R McGarry (0-2, 0-1 mark); C Costello (1-4, 0-4 frees), C O’Callaghan, L Breathnach (0-1 mark).
Subs: C Basquel (0-1) for Breathnach 46, J McCarthy for McCaffrey 46, K O'Gara (0-1) for O'Dell 55, N Scully for McGarry 61, T Clancy for Murchan 67.
Ref: P Faloon (Down).