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Monaghan made a statement of intent on the opening weekend of this year’s Allianz Football League by securing a three-point victory over All-Ireland champions, Dublin.
The win marked the second time in two seasons that Malachy O’Rourke has masterminded a league win over Jim Gavin’s men following their Round 7 victory at Croke Park last year. Albeit, Dublin had already secured a League final spot.
The truth is though, Monaghan did not have it all their own way in Clones. Dublin were much the better side during the opening half and with Niall Scully and Con O’Callaghan on top form it looked as though they were heading towards an all-too-regular routine win.
Scully, in particular, was everywhere throughout the opening exchanges, scoring a goal after seven minutes as well as having a direct role in four of Dublin’s seven first-half points.
Monaghan never looked like they were going to win this game. That was until a five-minute spell in the second half where they tore Dublin apart.
They went from lacklustre to lethal, and it all started in the 43rd minute with a double substitution involving star-man Conor McManus, and the now soon to be star, Stephen O’Hanlon.
Here we take a look at how the introduction of these two forwards transformed Monaghan’s attack and steered them to victory.
The score is 0-09 – 1-09 in favour of Dublin, Monaghan are still in the game, but the Dubs are in cruise control. Malachy O’Rourke springs Conor McManus and Stephen O’Hanlon from the bench, two full forwards, showing a clear intention that he is going to go for it.
It’s only natural that the introduction of McManus completely changes how both teams play. Dublin know they have to retreat in order to nullify the threat of one of the country’s best forwards. Whilst Monaghan are aware that if they don’t get the ball to McManus and try to take advantage of the offensive mark, they aren’t winning this game.
Monaghan have possession. Despite being three points in arrears, they are patient, trying not to force the ball. Their change in tactic is clear, to utilise the kick pass as shown here by Colin Walshe, who gathers the ball five yards outside the 45.
The first thing on Walshe’s mind is the kick pass. He doesn’t give it yet though. The next image is almost identical.
However, note the distance that Walshe has now travelled, he is playing the waiting game, remaining patient for the right moment. All the while, he ensures that he is behind the 45-metre so the offensive mark is in play.
From this angle, we can see exactly what is on Walshe’s mind. His head is up, he is looking for the kick pass, and his intended target is McManus, who is waving at him to send it long.
Eventually, the ball does go long and McManus is the target, but the pass is ever-so-slightly overhit.
Fortunately, Stephen O’Hanlon has read it perfectly and rises high above both McManus and Jonny Cooper to make the mark.
It’s a great take from O’Hanlon, and he was well within his rights to call a mark and kick an easy score which would have brought Monaghan back to within two points.
The young forward isn’t thinking about points though. He turns on a sixpence and heads straight towards the goal. From here, it is all O’Hanlon as he bears down on the Dublin goal before cutting onto his left foot and coolly dispatching past Comerford with his first play of the game.
An instant impact, and it’s now game on.
It’s all square at 1-09, but Monaghan are in the ascendancy.
Again they work the ball forward, this time with Jack McCarron hovering around the 45-metre line looking to get in on the action. He collects a fist pass from Shane Carey, and immediately looks for the kick pass.
We know were McCarron wants the ball to go. He wants to send it long into the corner, underneath Pat McGrane for McManus to collect and put over the bar.
McManus knows the plan too. He knows the ball is going to come his way, and that it’s up to him to make the most of it. As the ball is kicked, he gains a yard on Mick Fitzsimons.
McManus buys himself just enough room to be able to make the mark on the 14 yard line and leave himself with the easiest of scores to put Monaghan into the lead for the first time in the game.
Monaghan’s tails are up. They lead the game for the first time, 1-10 – 1-09. The sheer presence of Conor McManus has Dublin at ‘sixes & sevens’.
To beat Dublin, you have to strike whilst their wounded, if you take a backward step they will punish you. Monaghan made that very mistake the last time Dublin came to Clones. In a game that they really should have won, they sat back whilst in the lead and got stung badly for it late on.
They weren’t to make that mistake today.
Again, they work the ball upfield, conscious not to force the pass. It’s in this situation that Jack McCarron again shows his class. The Currin forward gathers the ball and knows instantly that it needs to go to McManus. As the old saying goes, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
The inch-perfect pass from McCarron finds its target, but rather than call the mark this time, McManus gathers it on the run. He knows Dublin are there for the taking and can see the field open up in front of him.
However, rather than take the score himself. He spots fellow super-sub, O’Hanlon in a better position. A goal at this stage would really ask questions of Dublin. McManus decides to pass it.
The pass finds O’Hanlon and the young forward shows great awareness and speed of thought to off-load towards the oncoming Shane Carey who is left with the simple task of palming the ball to the net for Monaghan’s second goal.
The score is now 2-10 to 1-09 in Monaghan’s favour and they hold out for the victory.
McManus and O’Hanlon were introduced to the full forward line in the 43rd minute with Monaghan three points behind. By the 48th minute, Monaghan scored 2-1 and led Dublin by four.
It was a masterstroke from O’Rourke who showed fantastic game management bringing the pair on when he did. The presence of McManus added an extra dimension to the team, whilst also adding a couple of decibels in the stands.
Making it a double-substitution worked perfectly. Dublin were too concerned that McManus was on the field, without realising he wasn’t the only scoring threat that Monaghan had called upon.
From what we saw yesterday, this could potentially be a double-act that could propel Monaghan to yet another level.
See our full & comprehensive coverage of all of yesterday’s Allianz Football League results here.