By Shaun Casey
NO team in the country can boast a better head-to-head record against Dublin than Monaghan can. Of the last four meetings between the counties, the Farney men have won three, with the exception being a draw in 2020.
Remember, it was Monaghan that ultimately relegated Dessie Farrell’s team to the second division last year, saving their own bacon at the same time with a wonderful Jack McCarron score late on.
That was in the familiar surroundings of Clones, but Monaghan have also tasted victory in Croke Park. Goals from McCarron and current manager Vinny Corey, along with a late point from Fintan Kelly, saw edge past the Dubs by the minimum in headquarters back in 2018.
Two years later, they were back on Jones’ Road and almost secured another victory over the side that had just achieved the five-in-a-row. But a last-gasp leveller from Dublin defender Davy Byrne stole a draw at the death and denied Monaghan another Croke Park win.
Colin Walshe stepped away from inter-county duty at the start of this season but knows all about those clashes with the Dubs.
“From within the dressing room, we were always very excited to play Dublin,” recalled the 2013 All-Star corner-back. “You were obviously looking at them then, they were All-Ireland champions so you were always trying to test yourself against them and see could you compete with them and see could you beat them.
“We played them a few times in Clones, and we played them in Croke Park, it was always great to test yourself against them in the league and see where you’re at. I know the first few times we played them; we ran them close, and they might have pipped us near the end.
“We would have looked back at it to see where we could have done better coming down the stretch. I think the first couple of times they beat us in the league, they pipped us in the last five or ten minutes of the game.
“We would have looked back at those games just to see how they closed the game out in comparison to us, they were always very good at that. We played them twice in the championship, but they would have ran out comfortable winners both of those days.”
Championship is a different ball game altogether, unfortunately for Monaghan. While their league record over the past few years has been phenomenal, their recent championship history with Dublin doesn’t make for pretty reading.
Ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin are heavy favourites to reach the decider. They’ve held the upper hand over their northern rivals in terms of championship, having wiped the floor with Monaghan in both the 2014 and 2017 All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Vinny Corey played on both occasions and couldn’t halt the rampaging Dubs bursting through the Monaghan rearguard to win by 17 points and 10 points respectively. Walshe was on the field for both those drummings as well.
“We didn’t seem to be able to rattle them in the championship,” recalled the Doohamlet defender. “Before both of those games, we would have been really looking forward to it and really fancying our chances to test them.
“In ’14 we started really well for the first 20 or 25 minutes of the game and then they hit us with two back-to-back goals in under five minutes just before half time to open up maybe a six- or seven-point lead and they ran out comfortable enough winners in the end.
“There would have been serious confidence in the team in those early years under Malachy (O’Rourke). We had lost the Ulster final in 2014 but bounced back and beat Kildare after extra-time the following week.
“There was a serious bounce that week heading into the Dublin game. We really wanted to take a crack at them and felt we were going to be fit to do that. Looking back, we only had six or seven days to get ready for that game.
“Playing Kildare and extra-time the week before, it maybe did take its toll on us in terms of the second half whenever Dublin did have that lead at half time, we were never really able to push them in the second half.
“2017 would have been similar. We had a last 12 game the week before and then we were drawn against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
“That first half, things just weren’t going right. We felt a few calls went against us early on in that game in terms of, we felt we could have had a couple of frees and they maybe got a couple of soft ones and before you knew it, it was 0-11 to 0-3 at half time.
“It really felt like that game had ran away from us in the first half, but if we had of been 9-6 down or something we could have maybe turned it around or dug it out, we couldn’t believe that we were eight points down.”
Across those four recent league meetings, Monaghan hit home eight goals and that’s always the objective when they face Dublin, according to Walshe. They haven’t been able to replicate their form come championship, but perhaps that will change on Saturday.
“That was always one area and I’m sure the lads will be targeting it this weekend. With Dublin, they play on the front foot, and they press you high and it’s a challenge to get passed that press early.
“There is a chance that the kicks on and we would have had a bit of joy from that in past, we’d have got goals but getting over that first line, they make it really difficult for you to get out and into the middle third.
“But there can be space in their full-back line, and they do try and win the ball out in front so there’s a chance of getting a direct ball in and maybe getting a goal.
“Dublin are a high scoring team, they will rack up a big score. They’ll get to 18 or 20 points so you’re either going to have to match that or you’re going to need a couple of goals to try and get you up to that tally.”
Walshe, who won two Ulster Championship medals in the blue and white in 2013 and 2015, doesn’t think the mental scares of those Croke Park hammerings in 2014 and 2017 will impact Monaghan this weekend.
The likes of Rory Beggan, Darren Hughes, Karl O’Connell and Conor McManus suffered those heavy defeats, but have also enjoyed more recent success against the Dubs, while Walshe insists the team has changed since those last few championship meetings.
“They’ll go off recent memory,” added Walshe. “You have a whole new group there, and I know there’s a couple of the older lads maybe, but it’ll be close to a sellout and that’s the only thing you wouldn’t have from a league game.
“Playing in Croke Park and the crowd getting on side with Dublin, but some of the players would have played in that league game (2020) when they drew with them in Croke Park.
“The young boys, they’ll take on that challenge. They’re in a position now, an All-Ireland semi-final, the one thing they’ll be saying is that they’ll want to go out and perform and give them their best showing.
“This is an opportunity for those boys to break new ground and I see them going to attack whenever they get the chance. Obviously, they’ll play a style of football that’ll suit them, but they will have to attack Dublin and try to hurt them.”
Vinny Corey stood in Croke Park in both of those championship clashes a number of years ago and Walshe, who soldiered alongside the Clontibret clubman for the majority of his inter-county career, insists he’ll not be sending his side out to make up the numbers.
“From the minute the draw was made, people are already talking about a Dublin and Kerry final and that’s what people are looking for, the two favourites meeting in the final and that’s what history would tell you, they’re usually the teams to reach that stage of the competition.
“I’m sure Derry are in the same position; they’d have spent the last two weeks telling themselves that it’s a game they can win and a game that they are fully focused on and fully intent on winning and reaching an All-Ireland final.
“The Monaghan lads are in the exact same boat and with Vinny Corey over them, Vinny won’t lack any belief, he has a will to win and he’s not the type of character that just turns up to fulfil the fixture.
“Monaghan are really going to want to test Dublin this weekend and I’d say that’s at the forefront of their minds, that they’re going down to put their best foot forward and they
don’t want to come home with any regrets or that they didn’t really test them.”