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Farney facing Dubs headache

TWELVE months ago, on their march to a first Ulster tile in 25 years, many observers agreed that the manner in which Monaghan filtered players back the field to deny Jim McGuinness' side space, before hitting them on the break, effectively led to the Farney County "out Donegaling Donegal".

Only a couple of short weeks ago, in the build up to a repeat meeting with Donegal in their provincial decider, I was of the opinion that Malachy O'Rourke's team could again out maneuvre the 2012 All-Ireland champions, and although Donegal strangled the life out of Monaghan's defence of their crown, I still felt they could prove a tough nut the crack if they progressed to the All-Ireland Series.

I based this assumption on the fact the O'Rourke has, without question, improved the footballing ability of the group.

In previous years I believe that Monaghan had tried to impose themselves on teams by sheer brute force, focusing far too much on the physical aspect of their game rather than allowing, what is clearly a talented bunch, express themselves with ball in hand.

This change in style and direction has clearly reaped rewards, consecutive promotions through the national football league to ensure Division One football next spring, and obviously a first provincial crown since 1988 is testament to the change in the fortunes of the Farney County.


So then why is it that despite them securing a spot in the last eight, and showing admirable mental strength to hang in when at times it appeared last Saturday night's game against Kildare was going away from them by, that I'm now struggling to see just how Monaghan can scupper Dublin's chance of reaching a fifth consecutive All-Ireland semi-final?

Clearly Dublin's performance against Meath raised the bar for Jim Gavin's troops, but the opposition aside I think O'Rourke, with only seven days preparation, needs to sort out his own team's formation before they worry about what the Dubs will bring to the table.

In four of their five championship matches played to date, Monaghan have named the same full-forward line, namely Dermot Malone, Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus. However, despite the signs of consistency, in reality, rarely if ever do the three operate as an orthodox front three.

The deployment of Hughes out around the middle of the field and the positioning of Malone, or sometimes Chrissy McGuinness in a more withdrawn role, leads to Conor McManus becoming isolated in the full-forward line and in may ways explains why 16 points (15 frees, one sideline) of his 1-21 championship tally has come from placed balls.

Admittedly the rigours of the Leinster championship pale in significance to that of the more defensive nature of Ulster football, but in comparison, Dublin's consistency is not so much around the names in the inside line, but is based on the movement of the entire front six, and their conviction that when they show, not only will they receive the ball but that they can be sure that there will be support runners coming from all over the field.

This is probably where the conundrum lies for O'Rourke, as one-on-one it is clear that Dublin's attack has the potential to do massive damage to any defence. But on the other-hand I do believe if they want to seriously challenge, O'Rourke needs to role the dice on Saturday evening, and leave Hughes, 
McManus, and perhaps even McGuinness inside to offer potency in attack that they have clearly been lacking in recent games.

While this set-up may undermine the defensive capabilities of his team, who up until last Saturday evening had conceded only one goal over the course of two years and eight championship matches, the truth of the matter is that all of those games were against fellow Ulster sides, who were arguably equally as focused on the defensive apsects of the game, and perhaps were therefore not as opportunistic is trying to create goal scoring opportunities.

Regardless of the numbers behind the ball Gavin's men will continue to try and orchestrate those three-pointers, and while Monaghan may seek to bag a couple of their own and hope the robbing of Peter for Paul's sake pays off.

In my view, even if the Dubs fail to raise a green flag, their average of 22 points over the their last three games provides a clear indication of the fluidity of an attack that I don't envisage Monaghan being able to live with.