Monday 20 November 2017

Bad deal for Monaghan as Dublin seek eighth successive semi-final slot

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Good fortune hasn't exactly gone Monaghan's way in the five seasons they've reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

They were matched with Kerry, the reigning All-Ireland champions in 2007, when Cork, Meath or Dublin would have been preferential.

Even then, Monaghan delivered an outstanding effort, losing by a single point.

When Monaghan won the Ulster titles in 2013 and 2015, they were paired with Tyrone on both occasions, turning it into dour Ulster struggles, both of which they lost. In 2014, Dublin awaited them after they came through the qualifiers. It's the same this year as they prepare to line up against blue opposition, who have lost only one two championships games in seven seasons.

It leaves Monaghan's prospects of reaching the All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1988 (they qualified directly as Ulster champions then) quite remote, even if they did put a fine performance against Dublin in their league clash in Clones last April before losing by three points.

Counteract

There's usually a big difference between Dublin at a provincial ground in the League and in Croke Park in the championship.

So the challenge facing Malachy O'Rourke, who has done an excellent job over recent seasons, is how best to set up his side to counteract opposition that hit Westmeath for 4-29 and Kildare for 2-23 in their last two games.

Both took on Dublin in fairly open contests and were easily picked off by a powerful attacking force. Carlow opted for a much more defensive approach in the quarter-final, making life much more difficult for the champions, but they still won by 12 points.

The same Carlow team ran Monaghan to five points in the qualifiers, a margin that didn't do justice to the efforts of Turlough O'Brien's defiant troops.

It's difficult to gauge exactly where Monaghan stand. Unexpectedly torpedoed by Down in Ulster, they drew Wexford and Carlow in the opening rounds of the qualifiers, games they were expected to easily win.

And when they reached Round 4, they drew Down, offering the perfect opportunity to avenge their Ulster setback. They won by eight points, which suggests that either Down really weren't very good or Monaghan are running into their best form at exactly the right time.

The latter will need to be the case if they are to turn today's test into a real contest.

For while Kildare troubled the Dublin defence in the Leinster final, scoring the biggest ever total (1-17) for a losing team in the 70-minute era, it never really looked as if they would win.

Nine points down after 20 minutes, it was always damage limitation from there on and while they achieved that, it's scarcely what appearances in provincial finals should be about.

Westmeath stayed with Dublin early on - they were level after 12 minutes - but couldn't respond to a burst of energy which took Jim Gavin's men 15 points clear by half-time.

How Monaghan respond to that type of power surge will dictate the shape of today's game. Donegal did it quite well in last year's quarter-final before eventually losing by five points. A similarly stubborn resistance is probably the best Monaghan can hope for.

Irish Independent

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