GAA Football

Monaghan meeting resurgent Dubs at wrong time as drop to Division Two looms

Dublin looked to be getting back to their former selves during an impressive display in victory over Donegal last weekend. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

Allianz National Football League Division One: Monaghan v Dublin (tomorrow, Clones, 1.45pm – live on TG4)

YOU can talk about all those other times the drop to Division Two was narrowly avoided but, heading into tomorrow’s all-or-nothing clash at Clones, this is not a position Monaghan would have wanted to be in on the League’s final weekend.

There are various permutations arising from other top flight games that could have a bearing on both Monaghan and Dublin, but the bottom line remains that anything other than a win is highly unlikely to cut it when all is said and done.

Even then there is no guarantee that would be enough, with results elsewhere potentially deciding their fate as a strange campaign draws to a close.

Farney supporters will make the familiar pilgrimage to St Tiernach’s Park in hope, having seen their side wriggle free plenty of times since securing promotion to Division One eight years ago.

In 2016 they needed a last day victory over Donegal to stave off the threat of going down, 2019 and 2020 saw the drop narrowly avoided again, while a dramatic extra-time relegation play-off win over Galway kept Monaghan up last year.

When the chips are down, they have always found a way. Yet you can’t be anyway sure what Monaghan will arrive in Clones tomorrow, such has been the nature of a Jekyll and Hyde season beset by injury and inconsistency.

The last three games provide an interesting snapshot of that. Against Kerry in Inniskeen, early promise soon gave way to a catalogue of mistakes on a day when two Rory Beggan forays out the field were punished.

Even beyond those instances that cost crucial second half goals, Monaghan were sloppy in possession and short of attacking inspiration. The absence of key trio Conor McCarthy, Ryan McAnespie and Jack McCarron contributed to this lack of dynamism.

A few weeks later, it was a completely different story in fortress Ballybofey where Seamus McEnaney’s men – with McCarthy and McAnespie back - ended a 12-year unbeaten record with a dominant first half display against the breeze.

This was the lifeline needed heading down the straight, and they travelled to Newbridge last weekend knowing back-to-back wins for the first time this year would edge them ever closer to safety.

Yet they didn’t show up. Against a Kildare side without star forward Daniel Flynn, Monaghan conceded a concerning 24 points. Ben McCormack controlled proceedings and they couldn’t stop him while, at the other end, only Conor McManus and impressive newcomer Gary Mohan really found scoring form outside of McCarthy’s goal.

And so it comes down to a shootout against a Dublin side who, from Monaghan’s perspective, have hit their stride at precisely the wrong time.

A month ago McEnaney could have been forgiven for rubbing his hand at the prospect of welcoming Dessie Farrell’s malfunctioning outfit on the final day. At that stage the Dubs had already succumbed to Division One defeats at the hands of Armagh, Kerry, Mayo and Kildare to leave them bottom of the pile, obituaries already written.

How quickly things can change.

Against All-Ireland champions Tyrone, they blazed into a 0-11 to 0-2 half-time lead, holding on to claim a first victory despite adding only two more points.

It was the performance against Donegal last weekend, however, that should give Monaghan greatest cause for concern. Granted, injuries have also blighted the Tir Chonaill’s campaign, but there were signs that the Dubs were just beginning to get their mojo back, and momentum is on their side.

With the talismanic James McCarthy an immediate impact in his first start of the year, Brian Howard and Brian Fenton lording it around the middle, blue bodies busily swarming and tackling with trademark tenacity before breaking with menace, echoes of the days of old, this is not a good time to be facing a resurgent force with plenty to play for.

Jack McCarron stepped up to save Monaghan skins in the dying embers of that relegation showdown against Galway 10 months ago, but the Currin ace – who hasn’t featured since the draw with Armagh on February 19 – is expected to miss out again.

That would be a major loss but, even if he does make an unlikely return to the fold, and even with an unbeaten League record against the Dubs stretching back to 2017, tomorrow could still be a bridge too far as Monaghan face falling through the trapdoor.

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