Dublin hardly expected Monaghan to roll out the red carpet for them on Sunday but when the home side chose not to provide them with a guard of honour the visitors knew for sure they were in for a testing afternoon, writes
The age-old tradition of honouring the All-Ireland champions has been on the wane somewhat in recent times although there is photographic evidence Kerry formed one to welcome Dublin onto the Croke Park turf for their league opener in Croke Park in 2016 as Antrim’s hurlers did for Galway in their first-round Division 1B game in Salthill last year.
More recently Tipperary applauded Limerick onto the Gaelic Grounds field for their Munster Senior League game in December.
In 2015, Mayo created the corridor for Kerry in their Round 1 game in Killarney as did Tyrone for Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s team in Omagh as late as Round 7.
There is also proof of Kilkenny doing the same for Clare in Cusack Park in 2014 and Dublin’s hurlers for Tipperary in Croke Park in 2016.
Jim Gavin’s men were probably more annoyed with the lack of hot water for showers in St Tiernach’s Park (an issue that impacted Monaghan also).
All the same, that pre-match slight would have been noted if not commented upon. In order to stay at the top, details matter and Dublin’s diligence is peerless.
Sunday’s action reaffirmed that fact. There was their almost innate determination to wind down the clock during the two 10-minute periods they were down to 14 men for sin bin infringements. It wouldn’t have escaped Dublin that the sin bin period is not subject to stoppages, ie as soon as 10 minutes had elapsed from John Small and Robert McDaid going off they were allowed to return to the fray.
And so they played keep-ball for good stretches to the extent that Monaghan fans began to boo them (their own team was as much to blame for not pushing up with the extra man). And so after conceding a free, Jonny Cooper held onto the ball for dear life knowing it would waste valuable seconds.
What also ate into the 10 minutes that McDaid was off was Dublin’s decision to re-introduce Michael Darragh Macauley for McDaid, who had been a blood substitute for his Ballyboden St Enda’s team-mate.
Despite Monaghan’s protestations and the insistence of the fourth official, it required referee David Coldrick to instruct Macauley to return to the sideline but by that stage Dublin had got what they wanted from the distraction.
The same could be said about their black cards also because they shouldn’t have been black cards. After a short kick-out was spoiled, John Small may have been all that stood between Jack McCarron and goalkeeper Evan Comerford but he did not pull down McCarron, the infringement which would warrant a card. McDaid did not bring down David Garland either.
The fact David Coldrick was carrying an injury may have had an impact on his decisions.
Dublin are used to influencing rule changes — the midfield mark, the 20-metre kick-out — so how they (usually) circumvent the black card and illustrate how the blow of a sin bin can be softened by killing the clock will be picked up by opponents and rulemakers alike. They are sublime footballers but on their sword-carrying hands they wear knuckle dusters. As a team on the cusp of history, they need a plentiful armoury.
Publicly, Gavin dismisses the significance of the past and where this group are in the context of the game but he has been known to provide his players with historical representations on Dublin football.
There was also that World War I trip to Flanders last May and the classy decision to invite the county’s 1958 All-Ireland winners to the panel’s All-Ireland medals presentation in the Mansion House at the end of last month.
It’s a season like no other for Dublin and that has been reflected in how they are paring back their commercial/public appearance activity.
Last year, the vast majority of the players’ endorsement work was confined to the gap between the league and Championship.
Already there are indications that will be reduced further with no representative from the Division 1 champions appearing at the launch of the Allianz League and Michael Darragh Macauley opting not to talk about Dublin at a charity promotion last week.
The theory is the bullseye is big enough on their backs without them making it any bigger.
Then there was Gavin’s dismissive comments about the league - “there’s a lot of shadow-boxing to go on over the six remaining games and then the real business of the Championship kicks off”. He later suggested the experimental rules have coloured his opinion yet Gavin has never been known to play down the significance of the competition.
But, again, this year is different.
On Sunday, Monaghan didn’t so much fail to lay out a spread for Dublin as pull the red carpet from under them.
In a season when so many want to be the kingslayer hostility will confront Dublin at every turn.
Their assiduousness will never be more vital.
Offensive mark needs a tweak
The cold in Clones on Sunday was a far cry from the dead heat in Adelaide 14 months ago but the temperatures didn’t matter: there Conor McManus was again collecting and scoring marks almost at will.
Should International/Australian Rules have such a bearing on Gaelic football? It’s a question that will be asked a lot over the coming weeks. There is certainly an argument to be made for marks being collected inside a team’s 20-metre line as Monaghan’s three-time All-Star, Stephen O’Hanlon and Shane Carey did at the weekend. It encourages more duels, direct football and how the game needs some route one tactics at the moment.
However, the idea that a mark can be claimed from a crossfield kick or simply stretching the field closer to the 45m line where contests are easier won doesn’t seem equitable. Calling one 30m out from goal as Dean Rock did in the first half or 40m as McManus did in the second half is rarely as aesthetically pleasing as fielding a ball closer to the posts when a goal is on.
Sure, most marks claimed inside the 20m line will run but there is a serious danger that by making them available from kicks 20m or more throughout the whole area beyond the 45m lines it’s the skills of Australian Rules we are commending, not those of Gaelic football.
Remember, just like the kick-out mark, nowhere does it state the ball has to be caught high, just caught. Much like ruling out the back-pass to the goalkeeper would make the sin-bin a more severe penalty on the team that has lost the player, confining the mark to inside the 20m would ensure the art of fielding is rewarded beyond kick-outs but not so much that the game loses some of itself to another sport.
Kelly can count himself unlucky
Amid the disbelieving reaction to Colm Lyons’ decision to send off Tony Kelly last Saturday evening, emphasis has been placed on comments by referees chief Willie Barrett last week that the GAA wanted referees to focus on head-high tackles.
The problem with that narrative is Barrett has given that instruction before. Last May, he said: “If they’re (tackles) on the shoulder or chest-high, then it’s a yellow card. But where they’re head-high, hit into the face, we believe it’s a red card. We have that scenario as well in hurling and we believe an elbow to the face or the head is a strike, is a red card.”
Barrett’s predecessor Pat McEnaney made similar comments during his term earlier this decade.
Lyons didn’t have the aid of a replay but a review of the initial collision between Kelly and Pádraic Maher shows the contact is with Maher’s upper chest. Fuelled by his momentum, the foul by Kelly was more careless and reactionary than dangerous and not against Maher’s head but upper chest.
Have no doubt, hurling people euphemistically analyse hurling discipline and citing last year’s terrific Championship is an unusual and wayward means of defending Kelly but a ban on the player would be harsh in this instance.