DUBLIN 0-17 MONAGHAN 0-16: It took a while, but the Allianz Football League semi-finals finally flickered to life with less than 15 minutes to play in the second contest, thanks to Monaghan’s late and unexpected surge for a place in the decider.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side hadn’t exactly travelled to Dublin yesterday overburdened by expectation. Not with an 11-point loss to the Dubs in Clones the week before to their name and with five days spent slogging in Portugal in the interim.
And yet, there they were, leading the favourites and league holders by a point with 57 minutes played, and their small but vocal support roaring them on to what would have been a first appearance in the top-tier finale since 1986.
That such a state of affairs materialised owed to a handful of congregating events, among them Dublin’s regression from the heights achieved seven days earlier, Monaghan’s collective improvement and the wondrous talents of Conor McManus.
The Clontibret forward has long been a player worthy of special attention from foe and fan alike, and he gave young Davy Byrne a most searching examination of his defensive abilities on a day when the St Olaf’s man stepped in to replace the injured Rory O’Carroll at full-back.
McManus spent much of the afternoon prowling around Dublin’s third of the field in splendid isolation like a lone wolf. Such is the life of many a forward in this modern age of industrialised football, but he prospered in spite of it.
Five points from play and another trio from frees were sprinkled like magic fairy dust throughout the 70 minutes. For almost 50 of those, his efforts served to keep Monaghan in touch, so it was fitting that it was his dead ball after 57 that put them, briefly, in front.
Dublin looked in some trouble at that point. It would be another four minutes before Dean Rock would kick a free to restore equilibrium on the scoreboard and kickstart a six-minute period that would harvest a quartet of points that would ultimately see them home.
The 13 minutes prior to that had delivered nothing but a drought and portents of gloom as a Monaghan side powered by the drive and three points of half-time substitute Dick Clerkin became ever more proactive in dictating the terms of play.
The difference from the week before was simple.
Monaghan had upped their game despite their Iberian exertions while Dublin had let their standards slip. Both managers subsequently said as much when delivering their post-match verdicts on their teams’ performances.
There is no doubt but that a win would have been met with far more fervour by Monaghan had they managed to hold on, but the result really mattered less than the news afterwards that some absent faces would be back for championship engagements next month.
So, Drew Wylie should make Monaghan’s engagement in Cavan despite having damaged a quad in Portugal, while the Dublin pair ofBernard Brogan and O’Carroll could yet make the final in three weeks’ time, though they missed this encounter with “soft tissue” injuries.
Wylie is an experienced member of Monaghan’s defence, but he struggled last week, while Brogan was part of a Dublin forward line that cut that rearguard to ribbons at will in St Tiernach’s Park and O’Carroll was superb at full-back for the visitors.
None of those tidbits were expected to matter much here in terms of the end result, but pre-match expectations were held stubbornly at bay by Monaghan, who trailed by just two points at the break when the deficit seven days earlier had stood at seven.
Not conceding an early goal again helped in that — as did the retreat behind the ball of all 15 players at one point — and the only time Dublin looked like netting was when Cian O’Sullivan dribbled an effort just wide of Rory Beggan’s post on the half hour. There was less fluidity to their game going forward while their shooting left more to be desired and yet they still had eight players on the scoreboard and saw off a side that accounted for both Donegal and Kerry earlier in this campaign.
It may have lacked a championship or even a make-or-break league tie’s intensity, but the commitment to track forward and back of both sets of players was in marked contrast to the more leisurely approach witnessed in the opening game. On a day like this, that was enough.
Scorers for Dublin:
D Rock (0-7, 4f and 1 ‘45’); K McManamon, P McMahon and Brian Fenton (all 0-2); D Bastick, P Flynn, J McCaffrey and E O’Conghaile (all 0-1).
Scorers for Monaghan:
C McManus (0-8, 3f); D Clerkin (0-3); K Hughes (0-2); N McAdam (0-1); R Beggan and P Finlay (both 0-1f).
Subs for Dublin:
MD Macauley for O’Sullivan (45); P Andrews for McManamon (50); D Daly for Byrne and E O’Conaghaile for Bastick (both 53); C Costello for Fenton (61); T Brady for Flynn (69).
Subs for Monaghan:
D Clerkin for Kerr (HT); D Malone for Duffy (41); S Gollogly for McAnespie (43); P McKenna for Finlay (63); D McKenna for O’Connell (69).
R Hickey (Clare).
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