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Friday 9 December 2016

Dubs save their best for last league stand as Monaghan blown away

Monaghan face a semi-final mountain as Dubs save their best for last league round

Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan Wylie, Monaghan, Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 7
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan Wylie, Monaghan, Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 7

PRACTICE, they say, makes perfect ... and Dublin footballers have belatedly revealed that there is indeed a prolific road map to beating the 'blanket defence' epidemic that has swamped this year's Allianz Football League.

Yesterday at Clones - in what constituted Dublin's most complete performance of their seven-match regulation campaign - Jim Gavin's men circumnavigated Monaghan's massed defence by kicking over it. Time and time again. And, almost invariably, with deadly precision.

A month ago, after Dublin had secured a barely-deserved draw with Tyrone, they stood with just three points from four games. The talk was more of looming relegation peril than an historic league hat-trick ... all changed, changed utterly.

This 11-point romp made it three wins on the bounce - and also copperfasted progress to another Division One semi-final next Sunday, set to be confirmed as part of a Croke Park double-header.

Here's the motivational carrot/scary part for Monaghan: a brace of draws elsewhere, in Castlebar and Omagh, meant they also qualified for the semi-finals ... there to meet Dublin again. Ouch!

The Blues have now blitzed Monaghan by 28 points in their last two outings, but Jim Gavin insisted afterwards that he wasn't expecting a third consecutive cakewalk.

"We've seen what they can do. We've seen how well they've played in the Ulster championship over the last number of years - it's certainly a challenge for us," the Dublin boss maintained.

In truth, many pundits have expected Gavin's recently hit-and-miss attack to face a serious litmus test at St Tiernach's Park ... partly because they have struggled to break down the blanket defence systems brought to Croke Park by Tyrone and Derry, and partly because Monaghan were on the back of a three-game winning streak.

As it transpired, Dublin's suddenly on-fire forwards passed the test with honours. While Monaghan, to an extent, imploded, you cannot be too churlish when assessing a Dublin tally that reached 1-17 from play, 11 different scorers sharing in that feast.

The contrast with last weekend's 0-8 haul - and widefest - against Derry couldn't have been more stark.

In fact, while the margin didn't quite extend to the 17 points that separated these sides in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final, in some ways this was even more one-sided.

Their intentions were obvious from the get-go: the game was in its fourth minute when Raheny's Brian Fenton marked his first NFL start with a confidently-taken goal, engineered by Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock, to leave them 1-2 to 0-0 ahead.

Monaghan rallied to trail by 1-4 to 0-4 after 19 minutes, at which point Eoin Culligan (already on a yellow) appeared blessed to have avoided a second booking, or even black, for hauling down Eoin Duffy.

The Dublin management reacted promptly, introducing Philly McMahon, whose subsequent forward meanderings were crowned by two eye-catching points.

EYE-CATCHING

More pertinently, McMahon was one of several Dubs - Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly being others - who showed the best way to negate Monaghan's defensive sweeper (usually Dessie Mone) in that first half, by nailing excellent scores from distance.

Mone's contentious black card, after 32 minutes, was another blow to Monaghan who trailed by 1-9 to 0-5 at the break - and who then conceded eight unanswered points at one stage during the second half.

When Tomás Brady pointed on the hour, the gap was out to 15 and Monaghan's solitary second half riposte had come via a '45' from their goalkeeper, Rory Beggan.

The heat had long since evaporated from the game, and Monaghan went on to outscore the winners by 1-5 to 0-4 in the home straight. Not that it mattered, and Darren Hughes's goal courtesy of a 68th minute rebound off the crossbar was only minor consolation to the hosts.

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