This time last year, Monaghan defeated Dublin in the early rounds of the National League in a cold and wet St Tiernach's Park Clones. The following day in these same pages I wrote: "It was a result and performance that should give Malachy and his team the belief to go and position themselves as one of Dublin's greatest threats." Words I would live to regret.
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Instead of driving Monaghan on, what resulted was Monaghan's worst run of results in nearly a decade, culminating with an early championship exit, courtesy of a trouncing by Armagh. Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney has confounded his critics with a positive opening to this year's league, leaving last year's disappointing season behind.
Monaghan are quickly turning into a GAA anomaly. Forget about the 'punching above their weight' nonsense. How many years does a team have to be in Division 1, until people accept Monaghan are very much a top-tier county? Six years and counting as a matter of interest.
Their first-half performance was as good as anything we have seen by any team against a Dublin side. Save making excuses for Dublin. Everyone operates off the same calendar. With a nine-point half-time lead, no team since the beginning of the 'Blue wave' has taken Dublin for more in a single half of football. It was hugely impressive. Making the final result all the more difficult to stomach from a Monaghan perspective.
Unsurprisingly, much of the post-match commentary will largely focus on Dublin's comeback. Monaghan, as usual, had to make do with the proverbial pat on the head. If the jerseys were Green and Gold, or Red and Green, instead of Blue and White do you think the patronising post-match narrative would be the same?
Forget Dublin for a moment. Monaghan relinquished a nine-point half-time lead. How? A minute into left in normal time, they were seven points up, yet failed to win. How? Monaghan threw that game away. End of story. Monaghan at their best have some serious weapons in their current armoury. Rory Beggan is close to a three-point advantage over many teams, such is his impact from kick-outs and placed balls.
Defensively, they are up there with the best. In midfield, a fully-fit Darren Hughes and Niall Kearns have the mobility to be a very effective pairing. Conor McManus is still one of the top three forwards in the country.
Along with maximising their strengths, to really compete they need to focus on improving aspects of their play that have seen them come up short on the big occasions all too often. Areas that few commentators call out.
Up front is the primary area in which they can make major gains. McManus can improve his shot selection and efficiency to Dublinesque levels. One wonder point can't come as the expense of two other missed efforts. Kieran Hughes has to bring a consistency to match his undoubted ability. Street ballers Conor McCarthy and Jack McCarron need to stamp their talent in games on a more regular basis.
Workers Malone, McAnespie, Carey, Ward et al have to regularly contribute on the scoreboard as much on the GPS counter. Also, collectively, their aggression has to be tempered with discipline, with black cards a costly price to pay from now on. Dublin scored four unanswered points during Darren Hughes's sabbatical on Saturday.
All of these aforementioned areas of improvement make the small margins of difference come year end.
Monaghan have a gilt-edged chance of progressing to latter stages of this year's championship with a favourable path to an Ulster final, that avoids Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh. Victory here pits them in the easier Super 8s pool with the Connacht champions and, potentially, avoiding Dublin and Kerry.
Some would say that you shouldn't be looking too far ahead but this is exactly what the top teams do. Plan to be competing for All Ireland titles, but winning provincials as a stepping stone. Monaghan, for too long, had the focus the other way around. Overly focused on winning an Ulster title, leaving us underprepared for Croker when it arrived.
If Monaghan are ever going to make the breakthrough, they need to start looking closer at themselves and how they can collectively improve. Not winning that game on Saturday night from the position they were in is inexcusable.
Now is the time to learn, however, both during the league and on the training pitch. Game by game, session by session, week by week in the build-up to the summer.
Knowing Seamus McEnaney, he will be banging the table looking for these improvements. They must not be afraid of asking the hard questions of themselves to drive the improvements needed and, if Saturday night teaches them how to close out games against top-quality opposition, it will have been a price worth paying.
The pats on the head won't take them far. They never do.