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Monaghan fail to test Blues

IT is becoming a bit of a recurring theme when it comes to dissecting Dublin's championship performances to date and last Saturday's facile progression over Monaghan is no different.

While being generally impressed with Dublin's displays in their provincial wins over Laois, Wexford and Meath, the concern remained that Jim Gavin's men had yet to be truly tested as they entered the All-Ireland series.

Surely Monaghan, a team with an insatiable work ethic and well-honed defensive structure, would offer the Dubs a fresh and genuine challenge?

Sadly, their bizarre tactics on the night suggested an exercise in damage limitation and once again, we didn't seem to learn too much about Dublin given they have yet being asked to play at the expected intensity demanded at the highest level.

Granted, they showed their threat when kicking on for ten minutes after Diarmuid Connolly's superbly-taken goal in the 25th minute but as the contest evolved, the Dubs were able to cruise through the game.

I was delighted for Connolly, as he showed great discipline and focus, despite some provocation, to concentrate on the task in hand and that goal reflected very well on his maturity.

I have to admit that I expected a lot more from Monaghan on the night and that they possessed the application and the game-plan to ask a few questions of the All-Ireland holders.

I couldn't have been more wrong, unfortunately, as their tactic of ceding possession on Dublin's kick-outs handed the initiative straight to Dublin, allowing them to build up attacks without and pressure being placed upon them.

How Monaghan felt that this was the most effective plan to curb Dublin's attack is beyond me and I would imagine that the management will look back with regret on not being more aggressive in seeking primary possession.

What exacerbated their difficulties was that they struggled to win primary possession on their own kick-outs and large parts of the match resembled a defenders against forwards training exercise.

To have any chance of beating Dublin, I feel you need to cut off the oxygen as source, starting with putting pressure on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

That did not happen last Saturday and Monaghan's kamikaze tactics of allowing Dublin to generate wave after wave of attack, ensuring the match was never competitive apart from the shadow boxing of the opening quarter.

It was even apparent at that stage, despite the score being close, that Monaghan were unwilling or unable to offer consistent support to Conor McManus and the subtle changes that Jim Gavin made as the half developed were pivotal to his side's ascendancy.

Jonny Cooper's move further up the pitch, to counter-act Kieran Duffy's sweeping role, added further pressure on the Monaghan defence and Dublin had too much nous and scoring ability for their opponents, who looked clueless at times as they battled in vain to stem the tide.

As a consequence, Dublin were always in control but not having being tested properly going into an All-Ireland semi-final leaves them at a distinct disadvantage compared to Kerry, Mayo and Donegal, who all had to raise their games in their respective wins.

Having said that, Dublin are still a hugely enjoyable team to watch and have shown the most compelling form of the four remaining contenders.

However, the caveat still remains that we have yet to see them placed under any sustained pressure for any period of time but variables like hunger, appetite and intensity appear to be there based on all evidence to date.

There are unquestionably encouraging signs within the panel regarding those traits and I was happy with the manner in which they resumed the second-half, kicking a sequence of points that ensured Monaghan could not enjoy any hope of launching an unlikely comeback.

Alan Brogan looks in fine fettle at the minute and given the prolonged injury problems that he suffered in recent years, it is heartening to see him come through matches with such ease, a testimony to the hard work he has put in to regain his fitness.

I would still prefer to see him as centre-forward and similarly, I think Kevin McManamon's talents would be better served closer to goal but it's hard to quibble with team selections when they have won an All-Ireland quarter-final by seventeen points!

Eoghan O'Gara was another to impress I thought on Saturday night, proving once again what a handful he is for defenders and his brute strength could well be utilised to telling effect against Donegal in three weeks' time.

While not being placed under any sustained threat, I thought Dublin's defence kept disciplined and Rory O'Carroll once again gave a massive display from full-back, highlighting how important he is to the Dublin set-up.

As a test for Dublin, it was hugely disappointing that Monaghan failed to provide the type of challenge that Dublin require at this stage and it is never nice to see such a one-sided contest at this stage of the season.

However, it is still very difficult to find fault with Dublin so far and they have been hugely impressive in everything they have done. Tactically, they have been very astute and Jim Gavin must be commended for the bravery in pushing forward and also in the faith that he has entrusted in his defence.

They may have remained in 3rd gear for large parts of Saturday's match but as the season unfolds, the question remains whether any side has the required personnel and tactics to solve the Dublin conundrum.


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