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No rocky road for the Dubs

ONE of these fine days, we're not sure when, Dublin are going to be pushed to the brink. And Jim Gavin will enter the Croke Park media auditorium afterwards to wax lyrical about the "stern examination" endured and brilliantly survived by his players. And we'll see before our eyes the boy who cried wolf ... and we won't believe him.

You won't win any Pulitzers recycling the cagey-beyond-belief post-match reflections of this Dublin team or especially its management. On the pitch, though - which is where it ultimately counts - they are busy accumulating landslide win after landslide win and, when the mood takes them, creating moments of poetry.

This was the case - again - on Saturday night in Croke Park.

Gavin is right to claim that Monaghan provided a stern examination but he forgot to add the killer clarification - for 24 minutes.

At that juncture the sides were deadlocked at three points apiece. The All-Ireland holders and scorching hot favourites had yet to score from play. Monaghan's predictable game-plan - to cede Dublin their own kickout but clog up their own defence with extra bodies, seeking to suffocate and frustrate - was working.

Dublin's uncertainty had just been summed up by a sequence that saw Stephen Cluxton badly miscue a 48m free, which duly fell into the path of Eoghan O'Gara - and what should have been a routine fisted point was so undercooked that it dropped, illegally, 
into the net.

At this stage Colin Walshe, Monaghan's All Star 
corner-back, had already delivered several cameos of eye-catching defiance. But during the aforementioned move he had landed heavily when challenging for Cluxton's delivery, jarring his left knee in the process, and the rest is history ...

The Monaghan No 4 actually finished the contest. But after a lengthy injury stoppage, Rory Beggan went long from the resultant free-out, Nicky Devereux latched onto the break, fed O'Gara who in turn passed to Diarmuid Connolly ... and then, in an eye-blink, the Dublin No 12 outpaced Kieran Duffy as if he wasn't even there. The angled finish was low, pinpoint, sublime. A three-point game, in its 25th minute, suddenly felt like game over.

That's only a slight exaggeration. In truth, once Monaghan fell into any type of deficit, they were always going to struggle. Three minutes later, when James McCarthy rampaged through the heart of their defence, then offloaded to Bernard Brogan for another slick finish under the legs of Beggan, the gap was out to seven and definitively there was no way back for the flagging Farney men.

FATIGUE

Once left to chase the game, fatigue was inevitable for a team that had toiled through 90 minutes in the rain a week earlier. Yet, even if Monaghan had time to rest up and concoct any number of cunning tactical plans, it still would have been a case of damage-limitation.

They didn't have the forward weaponry, bar the singular option of feeding Conor McManus, to serious trouble a Dublin defence that is growing in authority as summer progresses; that no longer appears the potential Achilles heel that might scupper their quest for back-to-back.

Just as crucially, Monaghan didn't have the engine to stick with this Rolls Royce machine whenever Connolly or either Brogan or McCarthy or Michael Darragh Macauley, or Cormac Costello off the bench, put their foot on the accelerator.

Thus, at half-time, the Dubs led by nine - 2-8 to 0-5. And at full-time the margin had extended to a chasm - 2-22 to 0-11.

Given their early success, it seems unfair on Monaghan that they have now become, statistically speaking, the most heavily crushed of Gavin's ten championship victims.

Yet they're in familiar company: Dublin have now beaten Laois by 11 points, Wexford by 16, Meath by 16 and Monaghan by 17. A cumulative margin of 60 points, an average of 15 per game.

Nor will you be surprised to be told it could have been worse (or better, if you're a merciless Blue): Dublin created three further goal chances in the second half but Costello drove narrowly wide with an unmarked Bernard Brogan frantically demanding a pass that never came; then Connolly's 15m rocket veered wide of the same upright; and finally Connolly, a tad too casually, tried to dink his point-blank shot beyond Beggan who conspired to get some of his body in the way, for a '45' that Cluxton, typically, nailed.

Looking from high above in the Hogan Stand, this reporter didn't get the sense that Dublin performed at quite the same stellar standard achieved in the Leinster final against Meath.

But there was still an awesome quality to much of their play, especially their off-the-ball running and support play. In a word, relentless.

Too relentless for Donegal? We suspect so. In the good old days of 2012, the Ulster champions would never have turned Saturday's quarter-final with Armagh into such a fraught white-knuckle finish that could easily have ended in defeat. Such a performance wouldn't come close to toppling Dublin.

STRATEGY

But Jim McGuinness has three weeks to devise a strategy that is bound to be ultra-defensive but may also throw something from left field at this seemingly unstoppable force.

Who knows, it may even prove to be a stern 
examination.


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