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Thursday 17 August 2017

Another case of give no quarter from Jim?

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan gets his shot away despite the challenge of Monaghan’s Kieran Duffy during the 2014 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan gets his shot away despite the challenge of Monaghan’s Kieran Duffy during the 2014 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

So then, another All-Ireland quarter-final against not-quite-elite Ulster opposition… another Sky Blue cruise in the offing?

That was the immediate reaction of most pundits (and punters) to the news that Monaghan had drawn the booby prize of a date with the Dubs in Croke Park next Saturday.

Then again, would it have been any different if Armagh had been pitted with the All-Ireland holders? Or if Down had emerged from Saturday's 'back door' Ulster-fest in Croker as the northern pretenders to Dublin's throne?

To paraphrase that legendary fan of Ulster (football), Margaret Thatcher: "No! No! No!"

Even Dick Clerkin, a man who has never disguised his devotion to all things Farney, cautioned in his Irish Independent column yesterday: "Against inferior opposition, Monaghan have gotten away with plenty of soft starts already this year. Dublin won't afford them that same luxury next weekend."

All of which brings us back to the commonly held perception, alluded to in our intro, that Dublin always, always saunter through the last-eight stage. In other words, that for them the race for Sam starts at the end of the August, not the start of it.

Believe it or not, this isn't strictly true. The record books may show that they don't lose All-Ireland quarter-finals any more (or even look vaguely susceptible to doing so) but they don't win them in a Leinster-like canter either.

As ever with these statistical trawls, everything about this modern-day Dublin phenomenon has the same starting point: The Day of the Startled Earwigs.

That 17-point implosion against a supposedly crisis-hit Kerry, on the August Bank Holiday Monday in 2009, was the last time the county actually lost a quarter-final.

Following in the slipstream of a 12-point capitulation to Tyrone the previous year, it left many Dublin diehards (not just supporters but surely a few traumatised players too) in the pit of despair.

Back then, as Kerry and Tyrone took it in turns to rule, it wasn't just a case of asking would the Dubs ever win another All-Ireland ... would they even win another quarter-final?

You know what happened next, as the back-to-basics revolution launched by Pat Gilroy, subsequently emulated and enhanced by Jim Gavin, established a level of stellar championship consistency never before witnessed in the capital.

This transformation has entailed seven consecutive quarter-final victories. These should not be mistaken for seven routs.

Whereas Dublin have won their last 12 Leinster SFC outings by a minimum of ten points stretching to a maximum of 31, they don't enjoy the same level of double-digit dominance here.

The average winning margin, in fact, is just over seven points.

The cumulative margin, spread over seven quarter-finals, is 50 points. It's fair to point out that Gavin has been less stressed at this stage than Gilroy: the former has won his four, to date, by a combined 35 points (average 8.75).

But even that figure has been seriously skewed by the only last-eight landslide to occur on his watch. It happened in 2014. Even more curiously, it happened against Monaghan.

The scoreline that day - 2-22 to 0-11 - hardly requires too much forensic analysis. Back then, Dublin had yet to experience the shock and awe of that Donegal ambush and Gavin's Globetrotters specialised in dishing out hammerings of such epic grandeur.

And yet, well into the second quarter, a low-scoring contest was all square. Then, in a matter of minutes, inspired defender Colin Walsh ruptured his cruciate ligament (incredibly he finished out the game) and Monaghan shipped a brace of goals to Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan. Dublin were nine clear at half-time. Out the gate.

This Saturday Monaghan will plot and plan, hope and pray, for something more akin to that first 20 minutes in 2014 and far less like the last 50.

Their roller-coaster form over the past two months makes you wonder if Malachy O'Rourke's men are playing consistently well enough to make this a genuine single-digit contest.

Yes, they are now a proven Division 1 outfit who could have beaten the Dubs three times in recent years ... they lost the 2015 NFL semi-final by a point, a Croker rematch the following February by a point, and their Clones showdown last April by a goal, having led by six.

Yes, they have a marquee forward in Conor McManus edging back to prolific form (check out Saturday's ten-point haul).

Yes, have oodles of big-match experience.

But? No, they don't have a promising record in Croker. No, their tendency for slow starts wouldn't inspire confidence. And no, they aren't playing Down this time.

As Maggie might say: "No! No! No!"

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