Maybe not such a bad time for Dubs to get a wake-up
Monaghan 2-12 Dublin 0-17
If you were a Sky Blue pessimist, you might well conclude that Dublin footballers are stuck in a late spring rut, unable to buy a win two weekends running.
Memo to all the above: no need to panic just yet!
Dublin may have followed up their Salthill stalemate, eight days ago, with a one-point defeat to Monaghan in Croke Park yesterday ... but as winning manager Malachy O'Rourke was keen to stress afterwards, everything should be taken in context.
A Dublin team resting Stephen Cluxton and Johnny Cooper among others, minus several other injured or convalescing front-line troops, and with their place in the Allianz Football League final already assured, have just tasted defeat for the first time in almost 12 months.
And it only happened because Fintan Kelly, sprung from the bench and more usually a defender, swung over an inspired right-footed winner from under the shadow of the Hogan Stand. After 74 minutes. With just seconds left on the clock.
There is no better time to land a knockout blow, with one caveat: with neither side playing for any tangible reward, there was an element of shadow-boxing at play.
Mind you, the last 15 minutes told a different story: after a passably entertaining first hour that carried more than a hint of a challenge match, the game took off in the home straight.
We had a 64th minute contender for Cheekiest Goal of the Year (courtesy of Jack McCarron's wonderfully audacious chip); a double-yellow sending-off for Philly McMahon; and then a late salvo of four superb points equally shared, via Brian Fenton, McCarron, Brian Howard and then Kelly at the death.
Dublin boss Jim Gavin had availed of yesterday's 'free pass' to road-test several players who have featured only sporadically this spring, among them Shane Carthy of St Vincent's, Cormac Costello and Conor McHugh.
In truth, it wasn't a stellar day for this forward trio, none of whom scored and all of whom were replaced.
But Gavin identified a more general fault-line - the same turnover tendencies he pinpointed after last week's draw in Galway.
"Just didn't perform well enough. We had plenty of opportunities in the game, gave away a lot of it to Monaghan. If you do that to a quality side like Monaghan, they're going to punish you," he stressed.
His dressing-room will have a quick opportunity to set the record straight: it will be back to Croke Park next Sunday to face a Galway team that, against all pre-season expectation, have finished the regulation campaign unbeaten and top of the Division 1 pile.
In that context, and given the very recent memory of last Sunday's feisty affair in Salthill, perhaps this was the ideal time for Dublin to taste defeat ... just a week out from another national final against a new gung-ho rival.
Prior to yesterday, Dublin had gone 12 league and championship games unbeaten, winning the first 11. It almost appeared as if they were gearing up for a reprise of their previous 36-game epic journey.
Not any more.
Asked if you can take more from a defeat, Gavin ventured: "Certainly in terms of the emotion of the players, it hits harder on them. The way we reflect on games, our process is the same to be honest, whether we win, lose or draw a game.
"We'll look at what we did well and try to replicate that next week. Obviously from today there's a lot that we'll take from it, particularly executing the fundamentals of the game. Our kick-passing, hand-passing - we gave away a lot of possession which wouldn't be to our standards. If we have a repeat performance next weekend, we'll make life difficult for ourselves."
Even amid the errors, there were some oases of excellence. Mick Fitzsimons limited Conor McManus to just one point from play, supplementing his solid defensive duties with several dynamic second half forays up the park.
Fenton was better again, winning ball, using it with his trademark assurance and maintaining his new-found scoring prowess with 0-2.
However, with would-be attacker Brian Howard initially operating from a wing-back role, the starting front six struggled to make any discernible impact with the exception of the top-scoring Dean Rock (0-7, two from play).
Dublin compensated through the combined scoring interventions of Howard, Philly McMahon, John Small and David Byrne, who shared 0-6 from play. And when Byrne edged them back into a two-point lead on 63 minutes, victory appeared in their grasp.
Instead, McCarron's outrageous dink over Evan Comerford restored a one-point lead for the visitors and put everything in the melting pot once more.
Much earlier, on 13 minutes, Vinny Corey's opening goal had similarly turned a two-point deficit into a one-point lead, allowing Monaghan to establish a decent foothold that they would never fully relinquish.
The sides were level at half-time (0-8 to 1-5) and level again until Kelly's winner crowned an upbeat Monaghan campaign, leaving them third in the table, on ten points.
Echoing Gavin's summation, O'Rourke was irked by Monaghan's first half turnovers but far happier with their composure at the finish.
But he cautioned: "You'll probably see a completely different (Dublin) team against Galway next week, at a completely different level. When it comes to championship they're a completely different beast as well.
"So, we'll take what we can out of today but we'll not get over-excited."
SCORERS - Monaghan: V Corey, J McCarron 1-1 each, C McCarthy 0-3 (2f), C McManus 0-2 (1f), D Mone, K Hughes, R McAnespie, K O'Connell, F Kelly 0-1 each.
Dublin: D Rock 0-7 (5f), P McMahon, B Fenton, B Howard 0-2 each, J Small, N Scully, C Basquel, D Byrne 0-1 each.
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; C Boyle, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, V Corey, K O'Connell; D Hughes, N Kearns; P McKenna, O Duffy, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, K Hughes, C McManus. Subs: F Kelly for McKenna (47), D Ward for Duffy (47), C Walshe for Mone (BC 56), J McCarron for McCarthy (56), N McAdam for Kearns (59), T Kerr for K Hughes (71).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, D Byrne; D Daly, J Small, B Howard; J McCarthy, B Fenton; S Carthy (St Vincent's), C Costello, N Scully; C McHugh, D Rock, K McManamon. Subs: C Basquel for McManamon (44), MD Macauley for Carthy (44), E Murchan for Daly (54), P Small for McHugh (54), E Ó Conghaile for Costello (64).
WIDES: Monaghan 12 (7+5); Dublin 4 (2+2).
CARDS - YELLOW: Monaghan 3 (R Wylie 50, Walshe 55, K Hughes 66); Dublin 3 (Costello 26, McMahon 51, 66). BLACK: Monaghan 1 (Mone 53). RED: Dublin 1 (McMahon 2nd yellow 66).
REF: D Gough (Meath). ATT: 22,085.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack McCarron.