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Tuesday 21 November 2017

The team that refuses to die marches on

Dublin 2-15 Monaghan 1-15

Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey fires to the Monaghan net late in yesterday’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash at Clones. Pics: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey fires to the Monaghan net late in yesterday’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash at Clones. Pics: Sportsfile

Maybe it's the perfectionist in Jim Gavin, but he wasn't shouting from the rooftops about Dublin's latest vampire-like escape from the clutches of mortality.

And maybe that's one of the reasons why this team is so special: any dip in standards is not acceptable.

Gavin certainly wasn't happy with the first 45 minutes in Clones yesterday, during which time a bravura Monaghan soared into a six-point lead - 1-11 to 0-8.

But what happened thereafter showcased Dublin's mental strength as much as their patience and precision, as they battled back to preserve their unbeaten run and quest for a fifth consecutive Allianz Football League title.

"We wouldn't be happy with that performance at all," Gavin insisted, notwithstanding their progress to next Sunday's Division 1 decider with Kerry (4.0).

"To put ourselves in that position - to be six points down with the third quarter just gone - wouldn't be acceptable. If we play like that again, we'll have disappointing days ahead."

Grit

But he added: "Once again you couldn't but praise the Dublin players' effort and their resilience and grit."

Their record-shredding run now stands at 36 league and championship games. They will hope to make it 37 when the old and recently frustrated enemy in green-and-gold come to Croke Park.

As it transpired, even if Monaghan had won, top-flight results elsewhere would have ordained that Dublin still advanced to the final along with them.

But watching from the press box in St Tiernach's Park, along with 13,227 transfixed spectators, you got the sense that everything genuinely was on the line.

This was evident in Monaghan's intensity from the first whistle; in the barnstorming forward forays of wing-back Karl O'Connell; in the two inspirational points, one in either half, scored by Kieran Hughes ... but most especially in the predatory brilliance of Jack McCarron.

McCarron has been a revelation this spring, scoring 2-20 in Monaghan's preceding four games. By the 58th minute here, when he ghosted onto a quick Conor McManus free to bisect the posts, he had added 1-9 (1-5 from play) to bring his five-match haul to a towering 3-29 (3-12 from play).

His 41st minute goal, arrowed home from a tight angle, looked decisive at the time.

"He was exceptional," purred his manager, Malachy O'Rourke. Suffice to say, David Byrne won't fancy his slippery company any day soon. And yet McCarron still lost. How?

The first, and most basic, explanation comes down to goals. Trailing by six, with the clock reading 48 minutes, Ciarán Kilkenny slipped a pass to Bernard Brogan and he calmly placed his shot beyond Rory Beggan; Dublin had reason to believe once more.

In no time at all, the gap was cut to one. Even though Monaghan rallied - in the guise of a sky-scraping catch and finish by Hughes, then McCarron's final point - the visitors still scented blood.

Cue a hat-trick of unanswered points from Paddy Andrews, Philly McMahon and a Dean Rock free (in the 67th minute) to tie the contest.

Venomously

Then, some 12 seconds into four minutes of injury-time, came the decisive score, a venomously executed Jack McCaffrey goal after a one-two with the returning (and influential) James McCarthy.

Even though both sides exchanged a point thereafter, that was the clincher.

Goals apart, there's another reason why Dublin finished stronger: consider the six substitutes who entered the fray as Gavin sought a response.

He could call on three Footballers of the Year - Brogan, McCaffrey and Michael Darragh Macauley. Plus a pair of two-time All Stars: Diarmuid Connolly, whose 15-minute cameo ended with a black card, to be replaced by Cian O'Sullivan. His other sub was Paul Mannion, himself no callow greenhorn.

Monaghan don't have such a luxury, and had already lost two key men - Colin Walshe to injury and Darren Hughes to a disputed black card - before the break.

"Dublin were able to bring on fellas with a lot of experience, lads who are very strong and physically powerful. That made a difference," O'Rourke reflected.

Meanwhile, it's back to Croker for the Dubs and a shot at five-in-a-row glory.

"We've got a lot of work to do. I think our performances through those seven games have been clunky," Gavin reflected.

"We'll never get perfection, that's not achievable; but we're consistently looking for a high level of excellence and we haven't got that throughout the full 70 minutes of a game ... if we don't, it just won't be good enough going forward."

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-4f, B Brogan 1-1, J McCaffrey 1-0, C Reddin, P Andrews, J McCarthy 0-2 each, B Fenton, C Kilkenny, P McMahon 0-1 each. Monaghan: J McCarron 1-9 (4f), K Hughes 0-2, K O'Connell, C McManus (f), F Kelly 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C Reddin, E Lowndes; B Fenton, C Kilkenny; P Flynn, K McManamon, N Scully; D Rock, P Andrews, C McHugh. Subs: B Brogan for McHugh (35), D Connolly for Scully (ht), J McCaffrey for Reddin (41), P Mannion for McManamon (47), C O'Sullivan for Connolly (BC, 50), MD Macauley for Flynn (65).

MONAGHAN: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Ward, V Corey, K O'Connell; D Hughes, K Hughes; C Walshe, S Carey, G Doogan; O Duffy, J McCarron, C McManus. Subs: N McAdam for Walshe (inj, 20), K Duffy for D Hughes (BC, 30), D Malone for O Duffy (54), T Kerr for Ward (59), C McCarthy for Doogan (68).

WIDES: Dublin 12 (6+6); Monaghan 13 (6+7).

YELLOW: Dublin 3 (Cluxton 26, Fenton 27, Reddin 31); Monaghan 2 (McCarron 26, Carey 67).

BLACK: Dublin 1 (Connolly 50); Monaghan 1 (D Hughes 28).

REF: J McQuillan (Cavan).

ATT: 13,227.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack McCarron (Monaghan).

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