Monaghan 2-13 Dublin 1-13
THIS was not in the Jim Gavin script – an irritating defeat to Monaghan on the first day of the Allianz Football League in Clones.
Annoying not just for the fact that it was Dublin's first time to lose a league opener since faltering in Cork four years ago. Or for the fact that it spelled back-to-back defeats against Monaghan, who inflicted their only competitive reversal of 2018 in Croke Park last March.
This will have irked Gavin because, almost halfway through the first half in St Tiernach's Park, they were six up and cruising. Indeed, even though Monaghan battled back to trail by two at the break, Dublin quickly eased four clear again after 38 minutes.
But then the dynamic of this Division 1 contest was turned on its head. Fittingly the comeback was launched by Jack McCarron's 41st minute point, because the Monaghan No 14 was superlative in that second half.
And yet arguably the key turning point was the double introduction of Stephen O'Hanlon and Conor McManus off the bench. With his very first touch in league football, O'Hanlon caught a high delivery and eschewed the attacking mark to make a beeline for goal, slipping home a 44th minute goal.
Next up, McManus soared to make a spectacular mark which he duly pointed. And then, on 48 minutes, another pinpoint McCarron pass and caught by McManus who raced goalward, off-loaded to O'Hanlon and he teed up Shane Carey for a point-blank fisted goal.
The hosts were now four up and in dreamland. A few minutes later, another McManus mark was converted. And even though, as Gavin emptied his bench, the increasingly youthful Dubs edged back to within two points, McManus completed the scoring deep in injury-time with a tap-over free.
After the shadow-team boxing of the O'Byrne Cup, this was more like the real Dublin. Albeit not in their full pomp either: skipper Stephen Cluxton wasn't even listed among the subs, nor was there any place in the ‘24' for Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, James McCarthy or Ciarán Kilkenny, while Eoin Murchan (though named in the team) was replaced before throw-in by Paul Flynn.
Not that you'd have guessed, early on, that Dublin were in any way weakened. Ten minutes in and they already led by 1-2 to no score.
The goal arrived in the eighth minute when Brian Fenton's over-the-top hand-pass opened up the Monaghan defence, All Star Karl O'Connell left on the turf as Niall Scully ghosted in to squeeze home a low shot past Rory Beggan.
Micheál Bannigan gave the slumbering hosts a tenuous foothold with their first two points, from a free and attacking mark. Yet the Dublin scoreboard was still ticking over and Con O'Callaghan marked his first ever league start with a quickfire brace to make it 1-6 to 0-3 after 17 minutes.
And then it all started to get messy. John Small was black-carded for a foul on Jack McCarron after a short Dublin kickout went askew; when Jonny Cooper refused to cough up the ball to Jack McCarron, David Coldrick brought the free forward and McCarron quickly stole a few yards to bury it to the net, only for the referee to call it back.
The retaken free was belatedly tapped over, but 14-man Dublin proceeded to play keep-ball for over three minutes before Fenton crowned the prolonged move with a sumptuous point from distance.
Further flashpoints happened, with McCarron booked for a foul on the returning Small that prompted Fenton to push him over – both players were booked.
Then Robbie McDaid, on as a blood sub for Michael Darragh Macauley, became the second Dub to be black-carded for a foul on David Garland. Even as McCarron knocked over the resultant free, Macauley returned to the fray (wrongly, under the blood sub rule) until Coldrick was alerted and he resumed his place on the bench.
The half ended with an injury-time score from Dermot Malone and Monaghan were now right back in contention, trailing 1-7 to 0-8.
It was normal service on the resumption, however, as Dean Rock (capitalising on a sublime Paul Mannion pass) and O'Callaghan stretched their lead back out to four.
And then it all changed. Changed utterly.
SCORERS - Monaghan: J McCarron 0-5 (4f), C McManus 0-4 (2 marks, 2f), S O'Hanlon, S Carey 1-0 each, M Bannigan 0-2 (1f, 1 mark), F Kelly, D Malone 0-1 each. Dublin: D Rock (1 mark, 1f), C O'Callaghan (1f) 0-4 each, N Scully 1-0, R Basquel 0-2, P Flynn, B Fenton, C Costello (f) 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O'Connell, B Kerr, C Walshe; D Hughes, F Kelly; R McAnespie, J McCarron, D Malone; D Garland, M Bannigan, S Carey. Subs: S O'Hanlon for Garland (43), C McManus for Bannigan (43), D Ward for O'Connell (61), C McCarthy for Malone (69), N McAdam for McAnespie (73).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; E Lowndes, M Fitzsimons, J Cooper; C Mullally, B Howard, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, C O'Callaghan, N Scully; C Costello, P Mannion, D Rock. Subs: R McDaid for Macauley (blood 29-35), D Daly for Mullally (49), R Basquel for Flynn (49), C McHugh for Rock (52), C O'Connor for Macauley (56), P Andrews for Costello (61).
REF: D Coldrick (Meath) and P Hughes (Armagh)