Dublin do enough but Gavin sees room to improve
Dublin 0-17 Monaghan 0-16
In time Monaghan will look back on this as a real lost opportunity. Maybe not now given the prevailing circumstances.
They had spent four nights during the week at a warm-weather training camp in Portugal that was designed with an Ulster Championship in mind.
If it was an exercise in tidying up the mess of Clones, restoring some respectability and driving on then they achieved all that. But they should have got more from it.
When Conor McManus kicked them in to a 0-14 to 0-13 lead from a free, after he had inevitably been fouled himself on 56 minutes, there was an opportunity to be seized.
Dublin hadn’t scored themselves for 10 minutes at that stage and, in that lull, Monaghan had built a steady momentum.
But that sense of urgency that you might expect from a team dangling Dublin over a cliff-edge just wasn’t there in the minutes that followed. You never felt that Monaghan sufficiently went for the jugular in that period.
Within seven minutes Dean Rock had put Dublin back in front with a couple of frees and the initiative was with the champions again.
Maybe fatigue had set in too early for Monaghan or maybe, just maybe, they never sub-consciously felt it was their place to be beating Dublin in a league semi-final, that it was never in the ‘plan’.
Either way, Dublin kicked on and built their lead to three before Monaghan took it back down to one again and pressed for a leveller with the last couple of attacks after ‘robbing’ two of Stephen Cluxton’s last three kick-outs.
No doubt, Dublin were vulnerable. Jim Gavin has cast the net wider than before to develop options in this league and give more game-time to a higher number of players.
The priority has never been to stitch together a first ever hat-trick of league titles, a feat they are just 70 minutes from now.
The manager admitted as much afterwards. “It’s not our long-term ambition this year. Monaghan are six weeks out from a championship, we’re out a week later,” he noted.
“We’re in very similar cycles in those terms, so I’m sure that was their focus going into this game, and for us as well. We’re trying to give players more game-time and build towards that end.
“Some of our performances haven’t been up to what we’d like, as in today’s performance wasn’t what it should have been. Somehow we got the result and I won’t say we’re happy for it. But we’re glad for an extra game.”
It wasn’t their most accomplished performance by any means. Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly never really fired across the half-forward line while Bernard Brogan didn’t play because of what Gavin described as a ‘soft tissue’ injury which won’t rule him out of the final against Cork.
From the inside line only Kevin McManamon returned points from play though Dean Rock was consistent from frees and Ciaran Kilkenny got to and laid off a lot of good ball.
At the other end, Rory O’Carroll’s absence was felt. Like Brogan he was a pre-match withdrawal through injury and in his place rookie Davy Byrne had the unenviable task of tracking Conor McManus.
McManus essentially operated as a lone inside forward but the lack of obvious support didn’t bother him as he scored five points from play and won two frees, one of which he converted himself.
Sometimes he had John Small, effectively Dublin’s sweeper as Monaghan withdrew Dessie Mone from the half-forward line for defensive duties, planted in front of him but McManus still thrived, franking his status as one of the game’s most prolific forwards.
If there is a positive for the Dublin defence it’s the return of another clean sheet, a sixth from eight league games now by comparison to nine in last year’s league. The explosive line-breaking runs of Jack McCaffrey, Dublin’s best player in this campaign, was quite often the most direct way to penetrate Monaghan’s defensive cover that sometimes involved the whole team.
Dublin’s control of midfield, especially in the first half, was also impressive. Denis Bastick was really dominant from kick-outs, cleanly catching three and getting to at least one more while he added impetus to attack, punching a point and setting up his partner Cian O’Sullivan for the game’s only clear goal chance. From 16 Rory Beggan kick-outs in the first half, Monaghan retained possession from just four.
For the second half they started with a new midfield pairing, Darren Hughes and Paul Finlay dispatched elsewhere as Dick Clerkin came in and Kieran Hughes was re-sited.
Hughes made a couple of great catches from kick-outs while Clerkin’s capacity to present himself in the right place at the right time helped him to three fine points. Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke admitted containment was at the heart of their strategy and from that point of view, never allowing the Dublin lead to stretch beyond three points, he deemed it a success.
“Going into the game last week we had already preserved our position in the division for next year and maybe we didn’t go in with the same hunger,” he suggested.
“Dublin were certainly up for it right from the word go last week. Today we wanted to get to the pitch of the game earlier, we wanted to make sure they didn’t get away on us. We were more competitive right the way through and that’s what we wanted.”
Scorers – Dublin: D Rock 0-7 (6fs, 1 ’45), P McMahon, B Fenton, K McManamon 0-2 each, P Flynn, J McCaffrey, E O Conghaile, D Bastick all 0-1 each. Monaghan: C McManus 0-8 (3fs), D Clerkin 0-3, K Hughes 0-2, N McAdam, R Beggan (f), P Finlay (f) all 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; J Cooper 7, D Byrne (St Olaf’s) 5, P McMahon 8; J McCarthy 7, J Small 6, J McCaffrey 8; D Bastick 8, C O’Sullivan 7; P Flynn 6, D Connolly 6, B Fenton 7; C Kilkenny 6, D Rock 6, K McManamon 7. Subs: MD Macauley 6 for O’Sullivan (44), P Andrews 5 for McManamon (49), D Daly 6 for Byrne (52), E O Conghaile 7 for Bastick (52), C Costello for Fenton (60), T Brady for Flynn (68).
Monaghan – R Beggan 7; R Wylie 8, O Duffy 6, F Kelly 7; K O’Connell 7, V Corey 8, N McAdam 7; P Finlay 6, D Hughes 6; R McAnespie 5, D Mone 6, T Kerr 5; K Hughes 8, C McManus 9, O Duffy 5. Subs: D Clerkin 8 for Kerr (h-t), D Malone 6 for O Duffy (40), S Gollogly 6 for McAnespie (42), P McKenna for Finlay (63), D McKenna for O’Connell (68).
Ref – R Hickey (Clare)