Monaghan 3-9; Dublin 1-14
In half a century watching in, this was the best GAA league game it has been my pleasure to witness as a young and carefree Monaghan side went into the Lion’s Den and bearded the All-Ireland champions at Croke Park on Saturday night.
This was a proper contest with Dublin starting like a train with a Cormac Costello goal before the young men of Farney settled down to show their skill and pace to carve open the vaunted home rearguard with searing runs that led to two first half goals.
The surprisingly big crowd cottoned on early that this would be edge-of-the-seat stuff and they were kept there right to the end when young sub Ciarán McNulty capped a fine performance by adding the winning point to his earlier goal. Dublin still had one last attack to find parity but the Ulstermen’s rearguard won back possession to seal a truly memorable win.
Dub manager Dessie Farrell will have more questions than answers to solve defensively after shipping three goals, which could have been four or five but for two fine saves by stand-in custodian David O’Hanlon.
However, it was another O’Hanlon, Monaghan’s young half forward Stephen, who really lit up the occasion with his searing runs that had the likes of speedster Jack McCaffrey gasping in his wake.
This young player is going to cause rearguards nightmares in the coming decades if he stays fit. It was his pace and ability to score on the run with a magnificent left-footed goal just before half-time which gave Vinny Corey’s youngsters the belief that they had the talent in their ranks to shock the men jingling Sam Maguires in their pockets with every stride they take.
Then in the second half when Dublin had restored their lead, it was his dynamism which led to scores that frightened the Dublin defenders anew and put Monaghan on the cusp of a shock win.
Together with McNulty whose 1-1 from the bench was vital, they showed Dublin that they will need the likes of Mick Fitzsimons back pronto to steady a defense that showed incompetence when faced with the lightning speed in the Monaghan ranks.
A shade before the hour, McNulty cut in from the right side on a mazy run to calmly plant the ball along the ground into the back of the net with defenders at sixes and sevens in his slipstream.
He then was on hand to fire home the winning score after former double Player of the Year Brian Fenton made a rare error in being turned over as Dublin went for the winning score up the field.
Monaghan’s young guns were up the field in a flash with McNulty showing outstanding maturity to flick over the winning score from 20 metres.
It was relative veteran Jack McCarron who got Monaghan's first goal from the spot but player of the match O'Hanlon’s goal was a game changer when it arrived.
It led to Dublin calling in the cavalry with skipper James McCarthy, and other old hands Niall Scully and Colm Basquel joining the fray in the hope of changing the pattern of the game. Yes, there was still no Stephen Cluxton, Fitzsimons or John Small in the backline or Paul Mannion in attack but Monaghan could also point to their missing stars, such as ultra experienced stalwarts Darren Hughes, the retired Kieran Hughes, Conor McCarthy, Conor McManus, US football trialist kicker Rory Beggan, Conor Boyle, Shane Carey and Karl Gallagher.
Dublin had seven All Ireland starters augmented to 10 by game’s end while Monaghan’s youngsters showed no great regard for names or reputations on the night.
Darren McDonnell replaced Beggan in goals and proved himself an able deputy with an impressive showing under the highball into the square and when required to kick a long free near the end of the game.
The Dubs were 1-4 to 0-2 ahead after 25 minutes and there was little sign of what was to come as Monaghan missed several scorable chances in that time with five shots dropping short of the target.
Then something magical happened, like someone plugged them into a higher voltage as they started running with intent at the home rearguard.
This led to Cian Murphy fouling Michael Hamill inside the small parallelogram and McCarron expertly dispatched before O’Hanlon left an indelible calling card with his incisive run and perfect shot to the top corner of the net after Micheal Banningan had done the spade work.
So with 20 minutes left, it was 2-2 to 1-5 and we had a game, and what a game it was, on our hands.
O'Hanlon made another mazy run that outstripped all comers trying to stop him and did everything right except place his shot at a good height for his namesake in the Dublin goal to turn away.
You felt though that every time the men in white ran at their opponents, there was a goal opportunity there for the taking and McNulty proved that theory with his green flag just before the hour mark.
At 3-6 to 1-10 Monaghan were two to the good but the question was could they withstand Dublin’s famous late, late finish. Dublin fought back to level and then were in search of victory when the normally imperious Fenton’s hand pass was blocked, leaving McNulty the role of matchwinner at the other end seven seconds later.
What a game and what a finish! How good is this young Monaghan side? Very impressive in this away match so let’s see how well they do at home to Kerry this weekend.
For Dublin they face old foes Mayo on the road and will want to get points on the table or the prospect of relegation will haunt them with only two games played.
Monaghan: D McDonnell (0-1f); R O'Toole, K Lavelle, R Wylie; R McAnespie, K Duffy, K Loughran; Jl Wilson, G Mohan; S O'Hanlon (1-1), Ml Bannigan (0-3, 0-2f), M Hamill; D Garland, J McCarron (1-2, 1-0p), J Irwin Subs: C McNulty (1-1) for McAnespie 32, S Mooney for Garland 46, A Woods (0-1) for McCarron 57, K O'Connell for Wylie 57, C Lennon for Irwin 68.
Dublin: D O'Hanlon (0-1f); L Gannon, S MacMahon, E Murchan (0-1); G McEneaney, C Murphy (0-1), J McCaffrey; B Fenton, C Kilkenny (0-1); P Small (0-1), L O'Dell, R McGarry (0-2, 0-1m); Cormac Costello (1-4, 0-4f), C O'Callaghan, L Breathnach (0-1m) Subs: C Basquel (0-1) for Breathnach 46, J McCarthy for McCaffrey 46, K O'Gara (0-1) for O'Dell 55, N Scully for McGarry 61, T Clancy for Murchan 67.
Ref: P Faloon (Down).
More football reports will be posted Tuesday.
Mayo 2-12; Galway 0-10
Tyrone 0-17; Roscommon 1-11
Derry 0-15; Kerry 2-8
Monaghan 3-9; Dublin 1-14
Meath 0-12; Fermanagh 1-9
Donegal 1-20; Cork 2-6
Cavan 0-16; Kildare 0-12
Armagh 0-12; Louth 0-11
Antrim 2-14; Limerick 2-7
Down 0-18; Wicklow 0-13
Westmeath 1-11; Offaly 0-10
Clare 0-9; Sligo 1-5
Carlow 3-10; Tipperary 1-14
Laois 1-12; Longford 2-7
Leitrim 2-17; Waterford 1-5
Wexford 1-13; London 1-9