Friday 14 December 2018

Dick Clerkin: Dublin showed that they can bleed as good as the rest of us mortals

Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Conor Boyle of Monaghan during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 7 match between Dublin and Monaghan at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Conor Boyle of Monaghan during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 7 match between Dublin and Monaghan at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

David Gough’s final whistle yesterday sent the few thousand or so Monaghan supporters into raptures. The players, however, maintained a calmness that defied what one might expect after defeating one of the greatest teams of all time on their home patch.

Cool as a breeze, Jack McCarron and Fintan Kelly, the heroes of the hour, calmly shock hands with their decorated counterparts. Inside, they must surely have been dancing.

When Malachy O’Rourke took over as Monaghan manager in 2013, he started the year off by identifying key goals that he felt needed to be achieved in order for us to progress: Defeat Ulster teams in the league. Win away from home. Win back-to-back championship games.

Small steps on what would turn out to be a long journey. Six years on, and with many more milestones achieved, this morning he can tick off another: beating Dublin.

Of course, everyone will be quick to dismiss yesterday’s contest for what it was – a dead rubber. But Jim Gavin doesn’t do losing and never has, not even dead rubbers.

When Dublin come through tough games, the strength of their bench is held up to esteem. When they under-perform but win, the list of absentees is quickly rolled off as just cause. They can’t lose.

But yesterday, lose they did.

Monaghan, as they were always likely to do, kept a strong defensive shape for the whole game, getting numbers behind the ball to deny the Dubs’ attack of oxygen to thrive.

Back in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final, we employed a similar tactic. For 25 minutes it worked a treat, until the dam finally burst.

Back then, however, it was Connolly and Brogan who inflicted the damage. Their heirs apparent have still a way to go, based on yesterday’s showing.

Only three of the Dublin starting forwards, managed a chalk mark against their name. Dean Rock assumed the bulk of this overall return. Cormac Costello was poleaxed by Man of the Match Drew Wylie in the second minute.

Limping off scoreless in the 62nd minute, Costello joined a growing list of players who won’t be bothered if they never see the Ballybay man again. Drew’s hit set the tone for the afternoon.

In the few instances Monaghan’s defensive line was breached, the man mountain of Rory Beggan was an assured presence in goal.

Regardless of the context of yesterday’s match, many of those Dublin players who drew an insipid blank will have an unwanted question mark put against them, as Jim Gavin turns toward a historic four-in-a-row campaign.

Dublin are still by a stretch the best team in the country, and yesterday’s defeat won’t have damaged the value of their stock a great deal, but if there was any significance to be taken from yesterday, it is that they showed that they can bleed as good as the rest of us mortals.

Kieran Hughes’ aerial presence on the square exposed some defensive frailties that are rarely exploited. Rory Beggan’s exceptional distribution prevented Dublin’s usual dominance around the middle third and, as a consequence, allowed Monaghan to create numerous scoring chances.

Looking forward for Monaghan, well there is no point denying the excitement that is around the county at present after a thoroughly satisfactory league campaign.

Regardless of the circumstances, any year you beat Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone in a league campaign is a good one. Efficient, if not spectacular, would be how you might describe the campaign.

‘Punching above our weight’ being applied to Monaghan is a term I have grown to despise. It’s like a ready-made excuse for when we ultimately fail on the biggest stage. There is no reason why Monaghan can’t target, and perform on, the biggest of stages.

Yesterday they didn’t just enjoy another moral victory against Dublin. They went and beat them.

Obviously, Dublin in the summer is a different proposition, but based on current form and standing there isn’t another county outside them that Monaghan couldn’t realistically beat on their day. If Monaghan needed any more belief to make the next step, then surely yesterday was the tonic they needed.

But. Yes, there is a but. And it is a big white one with red trimmings.

Who will be waiting in the long grass in Omagh at the end of May, ready to take the smirk off all the Monaghan supporters leaving Croke Park yesterday?

As is the case every year, no sooner is the league finished than it is forgotten. As Malachy updates his milestone board this week, he won’t allow himself to think beyond the eagerly-anticipated first-round clash with his home county, Tyrone. Beyond that, only the sky should be the limit.

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