A close call for the Dubs as valiant Monaghan go down by a single point in the National League semi-final at Croke Park 0-17 to 0-16. After last week’s drubbing by the Dubs at Clones, there weren’t too many supporters in the crowd of 20,000 expecting a Monaghan win. But as one friend from Emyvale said to me before the game, a defeat of around four points would be a good result for the Farneymen. In the end Monaghan almost managed a draw and a chance of taking victory in extra time. The Dubs however moved the ball quickly and precisely, launching wave upon wave of attacks on the Monaghan defence. But Monaghan kept with them all the way, up until the sixtieth minute when the sides were level on fourteen points each.
HALF TIME: Dublin 0-09 Monaghan 0-07
Dublin just about deserved their early advantage after a tense opening. Monaghan defended in numbers when Dublin attacked which was perhaps to be expected. Their last Croke Park clash with Dublin in the 2014 Championship ended in a 17-points battering. When the sides met in the final round of the league last weekend, Dublin were again double digit victors. So Monaghan regularly got 12 and 13 men behind the ball, often leaving McManus isolated in attack.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side did go forward in numbers when in possession, however, and picked off some fine points with an efficient display. Man-of-the-match Conor McManus was marked by David Byrne until the 52nd minute when Jonny Cooper was moved onto him. The Clontibret attacker gave Byrne a torrid time and scored six points off him. The ex-All Star escaped for two early points from play and another from a free after a foul on Owen Duffy. Kieran Hughes boomed over a beauty from distance too as did Neil McAdam while goalkeeper Rory Beggan nailed a free from all of 55 metres out.
Points came slightly easier to Dublin initially though and they also had a great goal chance when Cian O’Sullivan dragged a 30th minute shot wide. Dublin defender Philly McMahon strode forward for two points while Rock hit three points in the opening half, all from placed balls. Dubs rookie Brian Fenton closed out the first-half scoring and doubled his tally in the 42nd minute.
But Monaghan were the dominant force for much of the second-half and turned in a powerful display. McManus kicked three more scores from play in a row before Byrne was substituted. Dick Clerkin was excellent as a sub, scoring three points in all that helped Monaghan draw level at 0-13 each in the 55th minute. They remained tied with six minutes remaining but Dublin edged a tense finale thanks to those late points from Rock, O Conghaile and McCaffrey.
Dublin: S Cluxton, J Cooper, David Byrne, J McCaffrey (0-01), J Small, P McMahon (0-02), J McCarthy, D Bastick (0-01), C O’Sullivan, P Flynn (0-01), D Connolly, B Fenton (0-02), K McManamon (0-02), D Rock (0-07, 0-06f, 0-01 45), C Kilkenny.
Subs: MD Macauley for O’Sullivan, P Andrews for McManamon, D Daly for Byrne, E O Conghaile (0-01) for Bastick, C Costello for Fenton, T Brady for Flynn.
Monaghan: R Beggan (0-01, 0-01f), F Kelly, K Duffy, R Wylie, K O’Connell, V Corey, N McAdam (0-01), D Hughes, P Finlay (0-01, 0-01f); D Mone, K Hughes (0-02), T Kerr, R McAnespie, C McManus (0-08, 0-03f), O Duffy.
Subs: D Clerkin (0-03) for Kerr, D Malone for Duffy, S Gollogly for McAnespie, P McKenna for Finlay, D McKenna for O’Connell.
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).
Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke: “We’re pleased with a lot of aspects of our performance. We upped it in the second half. At 14-all we would have liked to go on and win it but that didn’t happen. We’ll take a lot of positives out of the league but we realise we still have a lot of work to do.”
Dublin manager Jim Gavin: “If we’re looking for positives, going down the stretch Monaghan looked in the ascendancy but our guys dug deep and found the scores. Some of our decision-making was poor but Monaghan were very impressive. The game could have gone either way.”