What looked all last week like a knee-jerk reaction to one dour game of football between Dublin and Derry in Croke Park was confirmed in Clones yesterday as Jim Gavin’s side put another Ulster county to the sword.
This was no classic, but it contained more than enough in the way of fluid football, beautifully kicked scores and generally positive play to put paid to any assertions that the grand old game is in need of a comprehensive tune-up.
Those who still say the game is in dire straits may well point to the context of this game, one in which both sides knew they were short-odds to make the league semi-finals, as indeed they ultimately did. It was hardly make-or-break stuff.
Dublin and Monaghan will actually meet again in the knockout stages back in HQ next week and it remains to be seen if that contest mirrors this or if the slightly elevated stakes instil a greater degree of conservatism in either outfit.
The hunch is to ask why it should.
This was no throwback affair, with men remaining rooted to their markers and patches of grass throughout. Monaghan had 14 players behind the ball as a matter of course and employed one and sometimes two sweepers.
Neither were Dublin standard-bearers for the uncomplicated ways of old. Time and again, the visitors drafted 13 men back into the defensive line inside their own half and yet there was plenty to please the eye on an ideal day for football.
If there was a quibble, it was in the increasingly one-sided nature of it all. Maybe it’s time we went back to decrying the death of football, not because of tactics, but as a result of Dublin’s dominance. Remember those days?
This was a clinical dispatching of a decent Monaghan side in front of 10,066 spectators. Eleven different Dublin players contributed to the scoreboard and on this evidence, it would be difficult to bet against them winning a third straight league title.
It was as comprehensive a victory as you could imagine on the road in the top tier.
Dublin, who had to toil so hard for scores last week, opened their account inside two minutes and found the net after five with Brian Fenton claiming the goal on the back of some superb build-up play.
The Dubs had already raided down Monaghan’s right wing twice to record points by the time Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock in the same channel to send Raheny man Fenton through on what was his first start for the seniors.
Even better was the move five minutes later when Kevin McManamon back-heeled a ball through to Bernard Brogan who flicked the ball into his hands from the floor and showed quick hands in sending Paul Flynn through.
What would have been the goal of the season was scuppered by the wing-forward’s tame finish and save from Rory Beggan, but it still served as a two-fingered salute to those who say this is a game of grunt and no guile.
Monaghan had engineered their own goal opening just moments earlier, but Vinny Corey’s attempt was foiled by the boot of full-back Rory O’Carrolll whose more conventional defensive methods were apparent all day.
The Ulster side’s challenge fell away thereafter with the loss to a black card of the roving sweeper Dessie Mone for a foul on Flynn coming on 32 minutes and depriving the side of a crucial bulwark.
Monaghan did have one half-hearted penalty shout for a foul by O’Carroll on Owen Duffy — a free was ultimately awarded on the edge of the area – but they never bothered Dublin to any significant degree again, until the game’s death throes.
Worse still was the ineffectiveness of their defensive blanket to which Dublin responded with a succession of superb points kicked from distance by talents such as Diarmuid Connolly, Flynn and even Philly McMahon.
Monaghan sought to up the intensity levels in the second half if their tackling was anything to go by, but it failed to rattle the visitors. Far from it. Dublin, in fact, turned the game into a procession for most of that period.
With six minutes to go, they had outscored Monaghan nine points to two and kept their hosts scoreless for 26 minutes. Quite a feat, even if they dropped their guard late on with a Darren Hughes goal and three points rescuing some local pride.
So, both live to fight another day — as does the game itself.
D Hughes (1-0); O Duffy (0-2); C McManus (0-2, frees); R Beggan (0-2, free and ‘45’); K Hughes, R McAnespie, T Kerr and S Carey (all 0-1); P Finlay (0-1, free).
D Rock (0-6, 5 frees); B Fenton (1-1): P Flynn, D Connolly, K McMamanon, B Brogan, T Brady, P McMahon (all 0-2); J Cooper, D Byrne, E O’Conghaile (all 0-1).
R Beggan; R Wylie, K Duffy, D Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O’Connell; N McAdam, K Hughes; D Mone, D Hughes, P Finlay; D Malone, O Duffy, C McManus.
P McKenna for Mone (34); D Clerkin for McAdam and R McAnespie for Finlay (both 45); T Kerr for Malone and P McGuigan for D Wylie (both 51); S Carey for K Hughes (66).
S Cluxton; J McCaffrey, R O’Carroll, E Culligan; J Cooper, J Small, J McCarthy; MD Macauley, D Bastick; B Fenton, D Connolly, P Flynn; K McManamon, D Rock, B Brogan.
P McMahon for Culligan (21); E O’Conghaile for Macauley (45); C Kilkenny for McManamon (51); T Brady for Bastick (54); N Devereux for Cooper (59); D Byrne for O’Conghaile (60).
M Deegan (Laois).