Dub five in a row faces Farney foeMonaghan aces McManus and McCarron pose twin threat to holders - but Gavin's men are masters of finding a way
IN one respect, it all seems a bit odd. All spring long, as Dublin closed in on and then surpassed that 84-year-old Kerry record, the bon mots and the bouquets have been showering down on the heads of Jim Gavin's unbeatable machine.
Unvanquished now for 35 league and championship games, for two years and one month ... and yet, they find themselves requiring a positive last-day result tomorrow.
Otherwise, it could well be bye-bye five-in-a-row.
As we say, odd.
But there are a few valid reasons for this relative pressure-cooker scenario heading to St Tiernach's Park in Clones.
Firstly, and most obviously, there are no Division 1 semi-finals in this year's Allianz Football League. Thus, the results bar has been raised; there is far less scope for error.
Secondly, for all the rightful acclaim of Dublin's ongoing streak (and they remain the only unbeaten team across all four divisions with the exception of Westmeath) you cannot ignore their more recent propensity for drawing games instead of winning them.
Three draws from six have left a window of opportunity for Monaghan (who have lost once and drawn twice) to leapfrog them with a victory tomorrow. And if that happens, Dublin can also be caught by Donegal if they triumph in Mayo.
And just like that, hey presto, the four-in-a-row Allianz League champions would find themselves on the outside, looking in on next Sunday's top-flight decider in Croker.
So much for the theory. The reality is that Dublin remain firmly in the box seat, and you will struggle to make a compelling case why Monaghan are the ones to bring history crashing down upon them.
Signs are, as this league comes to a climax, the holders are actually getting stronger.
More and more of their marquee regulars have returned to the match-day team or squad. In two of their last three games - against an admittedly hapless Mayo and Roscommon - they have been thrillingly in the zone, especially going forward.
Those cakewalks sandwiched a far more demanding war of attrition in Tralee. And yet even here, trailing by two points in stoppage time, Dublin found a way to draw with Kerry and equal the latter's ancient record. Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan made their first starts of the season last weekend. Both looked as if they'd never been away.
For a free-moving Flynn, especially, it was like winding back the clock a couple of years to his four-in-a-row All Star pomp.
So far, so positive for the Dubs ... but tomorrow, in all likelihood, will be light years removed. First up, Monaghan are not Roscommon.
They are battle-hardened, organised and aggressive in defence, and they have been punching above their weight for so long that it cannot be dismissed as some coincidental freak. They are also, contrary to the oft-repeated mantra of recent years, not a one-man forward line.
Certainly not this spring, as Jack McCarron has bounced back from his latest injury travails to start and finish the last four matches. He has scored 2-20 (2-7 from play, 12 from frees plus one outrageous sideline ball) which actually eclipses Conor McManus's 1-19 (0-7 from play) tallied over six starts.
All of which means Dublin cannot presume that, by holding McManus, they will automatically hobble Monaghan's attacking threat.
Twice in the recent past - the 2015 league semi-final when he shot 0-8 (3f) and last year's regulation fixture when he amassed 0-12 (9f) - McManus has tormented Gavin's full-back line. In recent weeks, his form hasn't been at that level but the visitors will still be on their guard.
For all these caveats, no matter how challenging the circumstances, you cannot bet against Dublin finding a way. It's what they do best.
ODDS: Mon 3/1 Draw 8/1 Dub 1/3
- Allianz fl div 1: monaghan v dublin (clones, tomorrow, 2.0, live tg4)