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MONAGHAN FACE test
of body
and
mind

TO win a championship game after extra-time in Croke Park is an energy-sapping business. To do so after being five points down, staring over the abyss, doubly so. To achieve all the above during a monsoon is bound to leave you elated but ... well ... physically banjaxed.

Now, for Monaghan footballers, it's about to get a whole lot tougher.

Here come Dublin.

After surviving their roller coaster ride with Kildare, all 90-plus minutes, last year's Ulster champions are left with just a seven-day turnaround before next Saturday's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, back at HQ.

Yet the real sting in the tail is provided by the opposition. Given the pace and athleticism and power that permeates Jim Gavin's dressing-room, it's hard to conceive a worse team to be facing if you happen to be feeling any way weary of body or tired of mind.

FLOGGED

Does that mean Malachy O'Rourke was feeling any way sorry for his flogged Farney men on Saturday night? Or that he'd prefer to be in the shoes of Jason Ryan, contemplating painful defeat, a multitude of 'what ifs?' and a long barren stretch until the dubious delights of the O'Byrne Cup? We'll let you decide.

Afterwards, O'Rourke revelled in the result he craved (Monaghan's first championship win in Croker since 1930) if not quite the performance. "You could answer that one yourself," he quipped, asked how much better they must be against Dublin. "If you give them time and space on the ball, they will run straight through you."

He added: "We want to just prepare as well as we can and make sure we turn up next week as well. And even though we have only a week to recover, hopefully [this game] will stand to us ... look, there's no point crying about the opposition now."

Still, his Kildare counterpart touched on a valid concern when reflecting: "The only thing that I feel for them is the turnaround." Ryan expanded: "People talk about the size of Croke Park but a lot of pitches are massive. It's more about the demands of extra-time and that it was a ding-dong battle. They weren't able to take off key players to keep them fresh.

"I feel for them. The amount of work they'll be able to do is minimal at best. They'll be very sore and tired on Sunday and Monday, and into Tuesday. The first day they'll be able to do some work is Wednesday."

Might they struggle even more because of Dublin's athleticism? "Maybe not in the first half," Ryan reasoned, "but in the second half and the last 20 minutes of the game, when Monaghan's legs are potentially going to be that little more tired."

This is why, he concluded, Monaghan's management team and strength and conditioning personnel must devise "the cleverest plan they can, to have the most ambitious protocols in place, to make sure the guys are in good shape."

During the first half of this error-strewn yet compelling Round 4B qualifier - interspersed with deluges and played in bar-of-soap conditions - the beaten Ulster finalists weren't in good shape at all.

They trailed by 2-5 to 0-8 at the midpoint and, at one point, it looked even worse. Emmet Bolton was one of four alterations to Kildare's match programme team (Monaghan had three); a corner-back in name only, he was more like a floating counter-attacking assassin.

It just goes to show: when a team packs its defence with sweepers but isn't tuned in, individually or collectively, gaps will still appear.

The ghosting Lilywhite had already given early warning with an excellent point before pouncing for two goals in a five-minute salvo. For his first, he took a perfectly timed handpass from the livewire Alan Smith at pace - Monaghan's blanket breached in an instant - and his finish carried the stamp of an All Star corner-forward. His second, stooping low to flick home Cathal McNally's assist, was more mundane but potentially ruinous to Monaghan's flickering Sam Maguire dreams, leaving them 2-3 to 0-4 adrift in the 24th minute.

Still, they managed four of the next six points before half-time. Cue a pivotal setback for the Lilies, three minutes after the break: Bolton black-carded for pulling down Stephen Gollogly. Then another, four minutes later: with a glorious chance to put his side seven up, Eamonn Callaghan placed his effort agonisingly wide of the post.

Monaghan's resultant comeback stemmed partly from a palpable upping of their intensity levels, partly from the growing influence of Dessie Mone on the left flank, and was quickly reflected on the scoreboard.

MARAUDED

Three unanswered points were followed by a 49th minute goal from Vincent Corey - released by Conor McManus's pop pass, the veteran centre-back marauded through the middle for a finish arguably even better than Bolton's bullet opener.

From there on, it was ebb and flow. Darren Hughes was inches away from a second Monaghan goal, soon after. Kildare, rewarded for their patience, hit three on the spin beyond the hour and looked to have won it, via Eoghan O'Flaherty's sweet 70th minute strike. But then McManus - shadowed everywhere by Ollie Lyons and confined to five frees on the night - converted the most crucial of all, in stoppage time.

Onto the first period of extra-time, where Chris McGuinness came into his own with a crucial 1-1, sandwiching Jack McCarron's inspirational point from distance, to establish four-point daylight. Even still, Kildare refused to slip away quietly, Eoin Doyle forcing a flying save from Rory Beggan before Smith had one last chance to force parity at the death, but his angled drive flew over instead of under.


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