Dublin make light work of first blanket defence test
THERE were a couple of discreet moments in the closing passages of this game that told everything of the dynamic within this Dublin squad.
First there was Mick Fitzsimons' block on Jack McCarron on 66 minutes and then Nicky Devereux's chase and partial block on an Owen Duffy shot that was sufficient to kill its momentum and allow Stephen Cluxton to gather.
There are a few positions battened down by certain players who are close to indispensable, but Fitzsimons and Devereux are not among them.
Diarmuid Connolly can probably afford to try to teasingly sidefoot past Rory Beggan at one end when the game is long over, but Fitzsimons and Devereux walk a much finer line. They must always glance over their shoulders.
So even with 15- and 16-point cushions as Dublin had when Fitzsimons and Devereux executed their blocks, there was no relaxation on their part. They have worked too hard to get where they are to be casual about what they do at any stage.
It is why Dublin will, more than likely, add a second successive All-Ireland title in just under six weeks' time.
As much as there is the athleticism, awareness and skill in abundance, there is a resilience too that is disguised by their swashbuckling nature.
There is a broad consensus that Dublin will 'let you play'. It's a myth.
Maybe it has grown from how they set up. Or rather how they don't set up.
But what distinguished this performance was how they made every ball a battle.
Perhaps they gave Monaghan a little bit more space than they are accustomed to, but they certainly didn't 'let them play'.
A 17-point victory has now given Dublin a cumulative winning margin of 60 points for four games. They are officially 'a point a man' superior to all opponents they have met in the 2014 championship.
It's a staggering route to an All-Ireland semi-final.
The road to September will get steeper. Monaghan may have styled themselves in the image and likeness of Donegal, but Donegal are more skilled and better drilled in the art of the defending deep and will make it harder for Dublin. But not hard enough.
Water always finds a way, and the force of the Dublin tidal wave eventually flooded Monaghan in a devastating three-minute spell when they went from being level (0-3 each) to seven points clear. And just like that it was over, a 2-8 to 0-5 interval lead almost doubling in the second half.
Dublin's first big test against a side that defended deep was passed comfortably.
'They are an intelligent group of men and they kept probing the opposition and looking for gaps, to that end they kept their composure and found small little chinks of light along the way,' reflected Dublin's manager Jim Gavin.
Monaghan played with just three players in advanced positions. The rest dropped deep and sought to make up the ground when the counter-attack presented itself.
In Croke Park it is such a difficult tactic to deploy successfully, but it was worth trying and for 22 minutes it worked, with Dublin frustrated into snatched shots. It took 11 minutes for the champions to add a second point to their first in the opening minute. When have they gone as long without a score?
Throughout that opening spell Colin Walshe was outstanding on Bernard Brogan. He conceded the first free but didn't put a foot wrong after that.
What impact a jarring of his knee had at that stage is difficult to tell, but within three minutes Dublin rammed in two goals through the same channel from Diarmuid Connolly and Brogan who also added a free in between.
Dublin's success stemmed from their tenacious attacking of Rory Beggan's kickout. They won four in succession between the 25th and 29th minutes and from those came the scores and the cushion.
Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke was left to ponder what the best way to set up against them might be.
They opted not to challenge the vast majority of Dublin's kickouts – they did win a couple in the second half when Johnny Cooper and Michael Darragh Macauley spilled possession – but Dublin were still able to cut through them with ease from deep positions.
'We could have gone down and went man for man and we might see how it goes, knowing in the back of our minds that it wasn't going to stop Dublin,' O'Rourke reflected.
'They would have cut through us anyway. So we put a plan in place that we felt was the best chance of actually winning the game.
'That might sound naive now when the game is over and you are beaten by so much, but if you are competitive at all that's the way you have to think and we felt it was a plan that could frustrate them and give us a chance of winning the game,' added O'Rourke.
'It worked for a wee while, but as the game wore on they just overpowered us.'
Dublin may well have won this game by over 20 points but for spurning a sequence of second-half goal chances.
Connolly and substitute Cormac Costello both pulled shots to the left of the Monaghan posts when they might have moved closer or laid off, while Connolly was far too casual when Dick Clerkin was stripped of possession and Bernard and Alan Brogan combined to create the opening which Beggan got a touch to on 57 minutes.
It was arguably Dublin's best defensive display of the championship. Philly McMahon and James McCarthy had big games, while Rory O'Carroll had a lot of success against Conor McManus, Monaghan's only real outlet. McManus still got a lot of ball, scored two points, won three frees that he converted himself and set up Clerkin for his second point, but he also registered six wides and dropped two more shots short. When Monaghan reflect they will feel they didn't do a whole lot wrong, but the effect of extra time seven days earlier may have told.
All of Dublin's forwards chipped in with scores. Alan Brogan struck the ball particularly well, while Eoghan O'Gara's strength eventually got the better of the resolute Drew Wylie.
Paul Flynn became more influential as the game wore on and he was arguably Dublin's best player in the second half.
Monaghan may justifiably argue with the officiating. Dublin came close to seeing their first black card when Eoghan O'Gara collided with an opponent in the third minute but picked up a yellow. Was it accidental?
Jonny Cooper checked Walshe on 12 minutes and while contact wasn't forceful he stopped his momentum nonetheless. Unless a collision is shuddering, it seems black cards will remain hidden.
But any argument wears thin against the force of what Dublin have done once again, applying the highest standards to almost every aspect of their game.
SCORERS: Dublin: B Brogan 1-7 (0-6f), D Connolly 1-2 (0-1f), A Brogan 0-3, P Flynn, D Rock, E O'Gara 0-2 each, C Costello, J Cooper, K McManamon, S Cluxton (45) all 0-1 each. Monaghan: C McManus 0-6 (0-4f), D Clerkin, K Hughes (0-2f) 0-2 each, R Beggan (45) 0-1.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 8, P McMahon 8; J McCarthy 8, J Cooper 8, N Devereux 7; M D Macauley 8, C O'Sullivan 7; P Flynn 8, K McManamon 6, D Connolly 7; A Brogan 8, E O'Gara 8, B Brogan 7. Subs: C Costello 7 for McManamon (43), D Rock 7 for O'Sullivan (47), J McCaffrey 6 for Cooper (51), P Andrews 6 for O'Gara (54), D Daly 6 for McMahon (57), P Mannion for A Brogan (64).
MONAGHAN: R Beggan 6; C Walshe 8, D Wylie 7, R Wylie 6; V Corey 6, D Mone 6, F Kelly 6; D Clerkin 7, D Hughes 5; P Donaghy 5, K Duffy 5, S Gollogly 5; K Hughes 6, C McGuinness 5, C McManus 7. Subs: P Finlay 5 for Donaghy (h-t), J McCarron 5 for McGuinness (42), G Doogan 5 for Gollogly (50), O Duffy for Clerkin (60), C Boyle for K Duffy (60), C Galligan for Kelly (67).
REF: M Duffy (Sligo)