Fintan Kelly's last-gasp point earns Monaghan an eye-catching victory over Dublin at Croker
MONAGHAN 2-12 DUBLIN 0-17
PERHAPS Monaghan have patented the elusive secret of how to beat the Dubs – deliver the KO blow in the very last second.
Today's final round Division 1 fixture at Croke Park appeared to be ambling along at challenge match pace for the first three-quarters … but then it took off in the home straight and finished in the most dramatic fashion conceivable.
When Fintan Kelly took possession on the right wing, the four minutes of stoppage time were almost up. The Farney sub's unerring right boot did the rest for a superb finish from a relatively difficult chance.
No sooner had Evan Comerford dispatched his short kickout than referee David Gough was blowing full-time and the visitors had prevailed by a point. In the process, they brought to an end Dublin's latest unbeaten sequence, extending through 12 league and championship matches.
The result has no impact on either – Dublin still advance to face Galway in next Sunday's decider, but it will leave Monaghan in upbeat mood heading for their Ulster SFC opener against Tyrone, crowning an excellent league campaign.
The sides were deadlocked (0-8 to 1-5) at the midpoint but Dublin appeared to be in control of the contest when leading by 0-15 to 1-10 after David Byrne's 63rd minute point.
Within a minute, though, Monaghan had engineered a sublime second goal to reclaim the lead. Kieran Hughes, so influential in his second half target man role, created the opening by winning possession near the endline.
The ball was worked through another pair of hands before sub Jack McCarron received possession; but the chance appeared lost as he had one foot on the ground.
But McCarron showed wonderful forward instincts to dispatch a wondrous left-footed chip over Comerford that dipped just underneath the crossbar.
The ever-influential Brian Fenton and McCarron then swapped points before Brian Howard equalised again for the All-Ireland champions in injury-time … but there was still time for Kelly to deliver the match-winner.
The pre-match government health warning had this labelled a dead-rubber; a soporific first half lived down to that billing.
There were flashes of individual excellence but it was all being played out at a pace marginally ahead of challenge match fare.
The visitors started brightly with points from Vinny Corey and Conor McManus sandwiching a Dean Rock free. But then the Dubs stirred themselves from early slumberland with four on the bounce via Rock, Brian Fenton, a tap-over Rock free and Philly McMahon.
Fenton was happy to settle for a point after Rock's pop pass briefly created the possibility of a goal; McMahon's score came after a neat dummy inside Kieran Hughes.
Leading 0-5 to 0-2 after just ten minutes, Dublin already appeared in cruise-control. But maybe it was too easy, and they were duly unhinged down the left flank of their defence for a Dessie Mone point and then Monaghan's goal in the 13th minute.
Owen Duffy was allowed to amble too far in possession and then his hand-pass over the top was claimed by Corey; the veteran belied his defensive roots with a clinical low finish and Monaghan led, 1-3 to 0-5.
The second quarter was mostly low-key and non-descript, although Conor McCarthy's pace along the endline almost engineered a second goal. This time Mick Fitzsimons got a vital hand to clear the danger near his own line, just ahead of the inrushing Niall Kearns.
SCORERS - Monaghan: V Corey, J McCarron 1-1 each, C McCarthy 0-3 (2f), C McManus 0-2 (1f), D Mone, K Hughes, R McAnespie, K O'Connell, F Kelly 0-1 each. Dublin: D Rock 0-7 (5f), P McMahon, B Fenton, B Howard 0-2 each, J Small, N Scully, C Basquel, D Byrne 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; C Boyle, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, V Corey, K O'Connell; D Hughes, N Kearns; P McKenna, O Duffy, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, K Hughes, C McManus. Subs: F Kelly for McKenna (47), D Ward for Duffy (47), C Walshe for Mone (BC 56), J McCarron for McCarthy (56), N McAdam for Kearns (59), T Kerr for K Hughes (71).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, D Byrne; D Daly, J Small, B Howard; J McCarthy, B Fenton; S Carthy (St Vincent's), C Costello, N Scully; C McHugh, D Rock, K McManamon. Subs: C Basquel for McManamon (44), MD Macauley for Carthy (44), E Murchin for Daly (54), P Small for McHugh (54), E Ó Conghaile for Costello (64).
REF: D Gough (Meath).