Deja Blue beckons for the Farney
This could be closer but form is with Dublin
HAVE Monaghan hit their glass ceiling or was last Sunday just a salutary bang on the head as they reach for the stars? The answer to that will go a long way to deciphering what happens in Croke Park tomorrow.
As Malachy O'Rourke admitted in a refreshingly candid post-match interview in Clones: "We have been on an upward curve over the last two or three years. Making the next step is the toughest step of all. Playing against these really strong quality teams, we've had a couple of hard days against them ... "
Monaghan have now played one of those "really strong teams" - Dublin - twice in the last eight months. They've had the misfortune to lose heavily each time, by a cumulative 28 points.
Now, you could argue, they've had the double-whammy misfortune to still qualify for tomorrow's Allianz Football League semi-finals only to be paired against their nemesis in Sky Blue (4.0, live on TG4).
That could, in theory, prove a psychological hammer blow to a team licking some very open wounds. And yet, when The Herald spoke to Armagh All-Ireland winner Justin McNulty during the week, he ventured that Monaghan must view last Sunday's mauling as "totally inconsequential", delete it without any post-mortems - and move on.
For Dublin, too, tomorrow's instant rematch is a not entirely straight-forward challenge. When you've hammered a team by 17 points (in an All-Ireland quarter-final) and then 11 (in their own back yard) there's an obvious risk of allowing presumption to take hold.
Manager Jim Gavin and the team's elder statesman, Denis Bastick, both argued to the contrary in the aftermath. "We've seen their results. We've seen what they can do," Gavin cautioned - alluding, no doubt, not just to their recent record of reaching back-to-back Ulster finals (winning one) but also to their spring scalping of Tyrone, Donegal, Derry and Kerry.
And, in fairness, for the first 20-plus minutes both last August and last weekend, Monaghan posed some questions. Even after their flying 1-2 start in Clones, Dublin were stretched a couple of times as Monaghan threatened goal chances and they could have been reduced to 14 men.
Ultimately, though, this was Dublin's most complete performance of a topsy-turvy and yet instructive spring campaign. The team has taken on a more familiar on-field look in recent weeks, even with some eye-catching personnel breakthroughs; the defensive alignment has noticeably altered to make them less susceptible to exposure on the counter-attack ... but last weekend also witnessed more than a hint of their old prolific traits.
After the laborious attempts to break down Tyrone and Derry, here they cut loose from all angles and distances: 1-22, 1-17 from play, 11 different scorers. Dublin might face another blanket tomorrow; they should have the wherewithal to breach it.
Gavin last night announced a Dublin team showing three changes from last weekend. Philly McMahon and Ciaran Kilkenny, introduced as subs in Clones, are named in place of Eoin Culligan and Kevin McManamon. There is also a midfield recall for Cian O'Sullivan at the expense of Michael Darragh Macauley.
DUBLIN (SF v Monaghan): S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, J Small, J McCaffrey; D Bastick, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, D Connolly, B Fenton; C Kilkenny, D Rock, B Brogan.
ODDS: Dublin 1/7, Draw 11/1, Monaghan 11/2
ALLIANZ NFL SEMI-FINALS: DUBLIN V MONAGHAN