Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 21 September 2014

Monaghan need to discover 'manic' side to trouble Dublin

Eoin Liston

Published 09/08/2014 | 02:30

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Kieran Hughes is an excellent kicker and his delivery is so good
Kieran Hughes is an excellent kicker and his delivery is so good

MANIC aggression. It's a phrase made famous by a YouTube clip of Ireland rugby legend Paul O'Connell in the dressing-room ahead of a Six Nations clash with France at Croke Park in 2007.

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"I want them standing back wondering what's going on here. Not for the first five minutes, but every single minute of the game. MANIC AGGRESSION," he roared at his troops.

The flies on the wall of the Monaghan dressing-room might see and hear something similar this evening at 5.30 or thereabouts as they get ready to face the Dublin juggernaut.

Malachy O'Rourke will be reminding his players that they got hold of Donegal last year, arguably the most physically imposing team of the modern era, and bullied them into submission in an Ulster final.

That's what they'll be trying to do today. There is absolutely no way we will see the open football they employed against Kildare last week. The monkey is off their back now, they've got their championship win in Croke Park and they've nothing to lose.

What they must do is try and get at least parity with Dublin at the restarts. With Stephen Cluxton, Michael Darragh Macauley and Cian O'Sullivan, plus the wing forwards and wing backs, the Dubs mobility and how they make space is exceptionally hard to counteract.

It gives them around 75pc of primary possession in most matches. When a team with their attacking talents gets ball like that, it is generally curtains. Monaghan must flood the space around the Dublin runners. They'll want to upset the All-Ireland champions' from the first ball and leave them wondering "what the hell is going on here?"

However, even if they do succeed in that respect, the problem they've had this summer has been more basic. Too often, Conor McManus has been left isolated up front. He was like cannon fodder for the Donegal defence the last day.

I can understand why Kieran Hughes has been brought deeper, because he is a excellent kicker and his delivery is so good. But it's time for others to step up in that respect and allow him to get closer to goal.

Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey and Fintan Kelly are all excellent runners in the half-back line and, with the open style Dublin employ, can hurt from deep.

Jim Gavin's men are untested to date. Apart from themselves, Leinster is poor. But despite this, the Monaghan examination is still one they should come through. Just how difficult it is may very well make or break their season.

The Farney men are almost the perfect preparation for, dare I say it, Donegal. But the key thing is they aren't at the level of Jim McGuinness's side, who are approaching the form that made them All-Ireland winners two years ago.

Despite the improvements Armagh have made this summer, thanks in no small part to the influence of Kieran McGeeney, I think it is too early in their cycle to overcome what they will face today.

That hunger, desire and downright madness is back in Donegal. The Orchard won't shirk any physical challenge. In fact, they will seek it out and relish it. I've noticed that they try and win a lot of individual battles through physical and mental superiority, and so far it has worked.

Armagh also have an effective formation up front. Jamie Clarke is the star man, but I've also been impressed by Stefan Campbell and Aidan Forker.

But Donegal are ready to take off. If they can get Colm McFadden firing, he, along with Paddy McBrearty and Odhrán Mac Niallais, form a potent attacking weapon. What I would be concerned about, however, is the use of Michael Murphy.

Surely there is another player available to Jim that could do the donkey-work role Murphy is so often burdened with? He has shown time and time again how lethal he can be and is a big game player.

This is a man who can carry the burden of expectation on his shoulders and is capable of the moments that turn good seasons into unforgettable ones. They can point to their scoring average of 18 points so far, but how much better could they be if they employed one of the game's marquee forwards in a role to make best use of his talents?

Take the shackles off, and Donegal may still be knocking around come late September.

Irish Independent

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