Dublin likely to be too tall an order for Farney

The likes of Jack McCaffrey can make an impact from the bench that Monaghan will struggle to match.
The likes of Jack McCaffrey can make an impact from the bench that Monaghan will struggle to match.

All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final: Monaghan v Dublin (Croke Park, 5:30pm)

Dublin are back, we're told. Back to what exactly? Their team against Monaghan this weekend shows six changes to their last All-Ireland win in 2020. It could easily be seven if not for the phenomenal U-turn of Stephen Cluxton.

They would admit themselves that that particular All-Ireland was a fantastic achievement for a team on the wane. Go back to the 2019 final replay and you have Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh McAuley, Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O’Sullivan etc.

It seems one swallow does indeed make a summer for Cian Basquel. Lee Gannon and Sean Bugler are others who are untested and unproven over a sustained spell. Be careful before you throw these guys in with the greatest team in the history of the game and call it the same thing.

And yet, Dublin could reach an All-Ireland final untested if Monaghan don’t show up. That is the danger. Much has been made of the league displays that will rightly give Monaghan confidence, but the Championship record ain’t so rosy.

In 2014, it was game over by the break. A year after Sean Cavanagh’s most infamous moment, Dublin wiped a Farney team that were a score from being back-to-back Ulster champions.

The memory is still vivid of Diarmuid Connolly running through on goal, Colin Walshe hobbling to no avail, Dublin scoring. It turned out Walshe had torn his ACL, and despite all the fight he and his teammates showed, the Dubs were on another level.

On an individual level, that is probably the case again this year. Connolly, speaking with Boyle Sport, certainly believes so, believing Dublin’s progression is a “foregone conclusion”, and going on to say Corey’s men could be in for a “whipping”.

It’s the kind of build-up Monaghan seem to thrive in. Despite the fact they’ve made it this far, there is certainly more in this group.

The nationwide perception is that Monaghan lack quality, but their goalkeeper and entire back six would be confident of nailing down a spot on Dessie Farrell’s XV.

The talk all year has been about getting Jack McCaffrey back fit. It appears that battle will continue with only two weeks until the season’s climax. Ciaran Kilkeny is unlikely to start once more, while Dean Rock’s best football looks to be behind him.

Monaghan have conundrums themselves. 3-13 was their tally the last time they met the Dubs in Clones last spring. Jack McCarron kicked 2-6 that day, while Conor McManus only came on in the 73rd minute.

McCarron will be a marked man, but without Eoin Murchan, the full-back line wouldn’t strike fear into any full-forward worth his salt. Monaghan will be particularly keen to isolate Michael Fitzsimons.

The Clare match was one of the few where McCarron and McManus have shared the pitch of late. When either starts alone, they tend to stay put in the opposition half. Against the Banner, they shared the defensive duties on a rotational basis.

Up until the final quarter, it would be for the best if Monaghan deployed just one of the pair. McCarron is more likely to impact from play, and will likely get the nod. Despite McManus’ heroics against Armagh, his addition from play has been limited in 2023.

The kickout battle will be the winning and losing of the game. It seems almost certain that one team or the other will capitalise with a major from a restart, be it from an efficient press, or an opposition error.

We know Rory Beggan has the boot to clear the Dublin press, while Stephen Cluxton, by contrast, certainly doesn’t have the range he used to have. Kickouts will be key in enabling Monaghan to frustrate the Leinster kingpins, in a similar manner to Roscommon.

A large spectating Monaghan contingent will be satisfied to compete any way Vinny Corey sees possible. Anything to break the Dublin rhythm will appease half of county Monaghan in the stands.

Sean Hurson will have his hands full, without doubt. There is a fine line between a cynical foul and a tactical one, a free kick and a black card. Monaghan were unfortunate to lose Sean Jones to the sin-bin the last day.

Armagh didn’t capitalise on that. Dublin will. Aggression and discipline will be needed in equal measure, and perhaps a little help from Hurson.

It is possible to ruffle this Dublin team. They tread the line a little less warily than under calmness personified Jim Gavin. Brian Fenton, in particular, seems to have added a real edge to his game.

Treading the line goes one of two ways, which makes a good start even more imperative for Monaghan. But even still, the third quarter blitz will likely come, and then with McCaffrey, Kilkenny and co to come in, Dublin have the legs to pull away.

This is not the Dublin of old, but they will still get the job done.

Verdict Dublin

Odds Dub: 1/8 Draw: 16/1 Mon: 13/2