JACK MADDEN: Finish line in sight

Weekends don’t really exist when you’re busy. May, June, July are all the same really, and the world keeps spinning for those who don’t fall off.

The visual definition of a weekend inhabits a hot tub, enjoying the effortless transition from Friday evening to Monday morning. For the disinterested, deluded, or nonplussed, life goes on as they hold onto the hand rails.

You’d wonder how they fill their passionless afternoons, so emotionally uninvested. For the semi-conscious, the lazy river guides their lives of lifelessness.


For the rest of us, the Amazon rages on, an uncontrollable current that whips the feet from under you in a familiar ambush. This time it was Eoin Murphy, tipping the ball onto his crossbar, in an act that would make you believe in miracles.

The full-time whistle is all that stops the flow on a Sunday evening, until the dam is bound to burst again five days later. Our time off is more strenuous than our time on, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s only been three weeks since the whole Ryan Tubridy fiasco broke. For many around Donnybrook, every second of that time probably dragged.

For many it disappeared. The Gregorian calendar only plays second fiddle to its sporting brother. In just over a week, Murphy will be in a familiar position in the Hogan Stand, further etched into history if it were even possible, or he will be motionless in the dirt, his heroics last weekend none other than meaningless.

In three weeks, Sam Maguire will be back in the Kingdom or somewhere else. He’s getting into that restless kind of humour that Kerry are more fit to manage than most. When he takes that notion, you know it’s all coming to an end again. And it is.

Last week, I caught a glimpse of the first Al-Nassr jersey I had ever seen. Kids wearing Manchester City jerseys is nothing new, and you could even come to accept the PSG enthusiasts, but this was borderline shocking.

The Premier League are no saints either. You can understand maybe the households where a team has been followed down through the generations. Otherwise it’s like drawing a name from a hat. Zero connection plus zero influence equals zero interest.

In Armagh on Sunday, a bunch of teenagers had the folk of Monaghan and Derry more fired up than any Champions League final ever could. The BOX-IT Athletic Grounds was heaving to the point where you’d wonder that if Croke Park had ever been on the table, then why?

Derry put in an exceptional team performance. There was hardly a handpass misplaced, a ball miscontrolled between the lot of them. They made their county proud.

That’s something you hear all the time. Sometimes it may not be 100 per cent true. More often than not, it doesn’t resonate.

As a Monaghan man, when you see the streams of white and blue flowing through the gates, you know exactly what it means. The Farney will know it wasn’t their best display, but they also know they had the support of their county, and they will be back.

Attention turns to Saturday. It has been a frantic couple of weeks. Sometimes you don’t realise how carried away you get until the bubble bursts, and then there’s almost zero middle ground. It’s like invincibility to vulnerability without a pit stop

I remember a league match in Omagh in 2019 where Monaghan were beaten out the gate. It came off the back of the best All-Ireland run the county had had since the 1980s. The team appeared as lifeless as the supporters.

One man in particular of a decent age was more than confident that we were doomed for Division Two, and Division Three the following year, and that it’d be for the best. A glass half full kind of fella, if you’d ever met one.

As the kind of attitude that starts to creep back in with an ugly defeat at the weekend. Dublin have the potential to scar you, and this time they have added motivation, if they ever needed it. Jack McCarron is a large part of the reason behind a Division Two trophy nesting in a Liffeyside cabinet.

Monaghan’s last battle with the Dubs in Croker was a 1-15 to 1-15 share of the spoils, played in the February before the Covid-19 pandemic got real. With 10 minutes to play, Séamus McEnaney’s men were nine points up. In the end, they got out alive with a point.

Even in last year’s clash, they were six to the good, with a last minute McCarron free proving to be the get out of jail card. Monaghan kicked 3-13 that day, and this weekend they will need something similar.

There is no doubt Monaghan have to push up exponentially more than they did against Armagh. McCarron can do damage again, as he always does against Dublin. Dessie Farrell’s men aren’t gifted with man-markers, even though they exert incredible pressure on the ball further out the field.

Vinny Corey doesn’t strike you as a man for damage limitation. He will undoubtedly have something up his sleeve for an outfit who haven’t really faced this kind of test from this kind of quality in 2023.

The Derry league final will perhaps provide his main reference point, with Dublin really struggling for scores in the opening period. Monaghan almost beat Derry at their own game in Celtic Park, and they may well return to a system where they deploy four or five men inside the ‘13. Key to their success will be prevention of an early goal.

They also have the press to frustrate Stephen Cluxton. Frustrate Cluxton, and you frustrate Dublin. Bear in mind they will not be afforded the same space as Mayo gave them.

The verdict is out on whether Dublin are truly back, but they will relish this opportunity to put Corey’s men to the sword and banish a few memories.

Monaghan will run them closer than people think, but the Dubs should win by four or five.

Verdict: Dublin

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