GAA Football

Dublin hold too many aces at both ends for Monaghan

Conor McManus has given the Dublin defence plenty of trouble in recent meetings. Picture by Colm O'Reilly
Cahair O'Kane

Allianz Football League Division One: Monaghan v Dublin (Sunday, 2pm, Clones, live on TG4)

MONAGHAN could easily have chopped this unbeaten Dublin run off at the knees on two occasions.

In Croke Park last February, Conor McManus kicked points from every angle, twelve in total. They led on 68 minutes, but it still wasn’t enough as Cormac Costello and Bernard Brogan snatched the win away from them.

It was the second time in just over a year they’d pulled that stunt, having also beaten Malachy O’Rourke’s side by the minimum the previous April, although not in quite as dramatic a fashion.

It’s the one remaining scalp that this generation of Monaghan players haven’t taken. They’ve won twice running in Kerry, away to Mayo this year, beaten Tyrone plenty, held the upper hand on Donegal.

But never Dublin.

That, of course, is no shame. A 90-year-old record smashed to smithereens in Croke Park last Saturday night as poor Roscommon discovered what it is to come vulnerable to this madly efficient machine.

The margin of victory gave Dublin a particularly strong hand in terms of reaching a fifth straight Division One final.

Their campaign, despite three draws, has been a sensational show of strength. With absolute seamlessness, they’ve injected Niall Scully, Conor McHugh, Shane B Carthy to the team. They’ve offered Eric Lowndes, Davy Byrne, Darragh Daly and Ciaran Reddin the opportunity to display their wares.

They’re sparingly used Jack McCaffrey, Michael Darragh Macauley, Diarmuid Connolly and Eoghan O’Gara. Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn have only just returned to the matchday squad.

And all the while, they’ve hung on to this remarkable unbeaten run, even through the most testing of times – not least finding themselves two points down near the death in Tralee.

It’s been a very fine campaign for Monaghan as well though. Jack McCarron’s 2-19 has been an obvious plus but his mere availability has been just as important to the rest of the team.

His constancy inside for the past four games has allowed Kieran and Darren Hughes to finally settle into a midfield groove together.

The pair have often played there, and often together, in recent years but the sibling partnership has been routinely broken by moving one of them to full-forward in periods of strife.

Karl O’Connell’s move to wing-back may or may not be such a good thing, given how influential he was at times from a roving midfield berth last year, but there is a more settled look about them generally.

They are without Ryan McAnespie, who suffered a heavy bang in the early moments of last weekend’s draw with Donegal. He is replaced by Shane Carey, with Dessie Ward dropping to half-back.

Having come off the bench in Ballyshannon for his debut, Michéal Bannigan will make his first National League start at wing-forward, while captain Colin Walshe is among the subs as his recovery from a hamstring injury continues.

Conor McManus has traditionally been a torture to the Dublin defence in this fixture. He’s been on half-power during the League but if he and McCarron click together for an afternoon, it could represent a serious test for Philly McMahon and Michael Fitzsimons.

Dublin’s attacking riches are one thing but they also have comfortably the best defensive record in the country. Plenty of reasons there to shy away from tipping anyone to beat them.

Monaghan: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Ward, N McAdam, K O'Connell; D Hughes, K Hughes; M Bannigan, S Carey, G Doogan; O Duffy, J McCarron, C McManus.

Subs: C Forde, S Finnegan, D Malone, V Corey, J Mealiff, B Greenan, T Kerr, K Duffy, C McCarthy, S Gollogly, C Walshe

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