Monaghan can pose problems to Dublin in Division One opener
Allianz Football League Division One, round one: Monaghan v Dublin (Clones, 2pm tomorrow)
ASSESSING Monaghan’s record against Dublin could double up as one of those ‘Are you a pessimist or an optimist?’ pop psychology tests.
On the upside Malachy O’Rourke’s men won the most recent encounter, in the last round of Division One, and at Croke Park to boot. On the other hand, the Dubs had already secured their place in the final before that round seven encounter, and still only succumbed by a point.
Indeed, on the face of it, Monaghan’s record against Dublin is pretty poor, despite winning that last meeting. They’d lost the previous eight matches, and drew the one before that.
There’ve been bad beatings in among those games too, defeats by 17, 11, and 10 points, the last of those two years ago.
Then again…there have been three losses by the minimum margin (in 2011, the 2015 semi-finals, and 2016) and just a goal separated the sides in St Tiernach’s Park two years ago, in round seven, when Dublin had to win to be certain of reaching the final.
The Dubs have made the decider in each of the past six seasons, winning five of those, and were also finalists in 2011, so there’s absolutely no doubting their commitment to the League.
The same can be said of Monaghan in this decade too, though. The Farneymen worked their way up into the top flight from Division Three in 2013 and the brilliant O’Rourke has also kept them there for four seasons.
Indeed Monaghan have done much more than merely survive in Division One, they’ve thrived – they have averaged eight points over the past four campaigns, and got better in recent times, rising from six, to eight, to 10 points last year.
The two bosses up against each other, O’Rourke and Gavin, are arguably the best two in the business.
Beyond all argument, Dublin are the best team, and squad, in the country.
The only question marks over the visitors to Clones surround the match fitness of their team, and the make-up of it.
It was almost a ‘third string’ which got to the O’Byrne Cup Final under the guidance of Paul Clarke as Dublin again rested their stars in pre-season.
It will be interesting to see how many of their seven current All-stars take to the St Tiernach’s Park turf tomorrow. Dubs, and others, contend that they should have had at least one more All-star, in the form of long-serving goalkeeper and captain Stephen Cluxton.
However, most observers who don’t earn money from the Dublin media, or view the world through sky blue-tinted glasses, accepted that Monaghan’s Rory Beggan had enjoyed a better season.
He was joined on the Dublin Convention Centre stage for those annual awards by two county colleagues, Karl O’Connell and Conor McManus, and Monaghan will want both, especially the latter, to be involved tomorrow, after he sat out the Dr McKenna Cup. Apart from ‘Mansy’, Monaghan will look to the likes of UCD’s Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron, and younger forwards David Garland and Stephen O’Hanlon.
Strong cases were made by some that Allstars should have gone to both of the Wylie brothers, Drew and Ryan, so there’s the potential for plenty of class performers to strut their stuff between Beggan and whoever dons the Dublin number one jersey. Both ’keepers will have to work harder to keep their famed kick-out accuracy high given that they’ll now be launching from the 20m line under one of the remaining rules up for experiment.
Dublin will be happy that the ‘three hand-passes’ rule has gone, thanks in no small part to the early public opposition voiced by GPA CEO Paul Flynn of, er, Dublin.
Monaghan suffered a rare home loss in last year’s opener, against Mayo. Dublin will be expected to achieve likewise, but I’m not being overly optimistic in thinking that the hosts can take something from this clash.
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).