Allianz Football League: McCarron’s magic saves Monaghan again in jaw-dropping Division One climax

McCarron was hounded by his team-mates at the final whistle as his last free breath saved Monaghan while condemning Dublin to a move to Division Two

In the moment, it was easy to forget that we had seen it all before.

Jack McCarron, the ball – and the fate of Monaghan – in his hands, preparing for one last kick, one last throw of the dice.

In 2021, it was a fake, brand-monster score that sent Galway to Division Two.

Sadly, with Covid restrictions still in place, there were no fans at Clones to drink in his overtime heroics against the tribesmen.

It was a different story against Dublin.

This time another dead-eyed McCarron kick – the final act of a jaw-dropping match against the fallen footballing giant – was greeted with thunderous cheers by thousands of Monaghan supporters in the sunshine clones.

With the Oscars on Sunday night, it seemed fitting that McCarron produced an exposition that could easily have been pulled straight from a Hollywood script: the protagonist combining heart, courage and skill to bring a gripping story to a fitting conclusion.

Last year, McCarron’s penchant for eleventh-hour pyrotechnics came at Galway’s expense.

This time it’s Dublin, who suffered relegation for the first time since 1995 – 15 months after claiming an unprecedented sixth successive victory in All-Ireland.

Dublin boss Dessie Farrell
Farrell’s Dublin dropped out of Division 1 after five defeats in seven games

For Dublin, it’s another demoralizing setback to have finally relinquished their grip on Sam Maguire with All-Ireland’s semi-final loss to Mayo in August.

They arrived at Clones after morale-boosting wins over Tyrone and Donegal, but having started the campaign with four successive defeats – including home defeats to Armagh and Mayo – they simply left themselves with too much to do. .

When Dublin fell a level in 1995, they managed to clinch their first All-Ireland title since 1983 later that year. Manager Dessie Farrell, a star of the 1995 team, now faces the unenviable task of creating something similar.

McCarron returns from appendicitis to light clones

That day, Monaghan was deserved winners, McCarron the chief orchestrator of Dublin’s downfall.

Having missed the last two games with appendicitis, the Currin clubman made an early comeback, scoring three points in an energetic first-half display to help Monaghan lead 1-7 to 0-8 at the break .

But the best was yet to come.

Five minutes into the second half, the unmistakable figure of Gary Mohan – that of the glorious mullet and blood-red gumshield – was mowed down by the scrambling limbs of Dublin keeper Michael Shiel.

All eyes immediately turned to referee Noel Mooney.

Sadness.

Up stepped up McCarron to drill a left-footed shot into the corner.

McCarron celebrates his second goal of the game
Having already scored a penalty, McCarron produced a moment of magic when he coolly lobbed Dublin keeper Michael Shiel to put Monaghan 3-10 0-13 ahead.

It gave Monaghan seven points, but when Dean Rock tapped in a free-kick after Ryan Wylie was sent off, Dublin were within three-point range.

Or so they thought.

Less than a minute after Rock was released, Karl O’Connell threw a high ball to McCarron. Not for the first time, he beat veteran Dublin defender Michael Fitzsimons and looked up to see Shiel off his line.

Some players would go for the percentage play and stick it over the bar, but not McCarron. Not in that kind of form.

Reminiscing about his chip on Dubs keeper Evan Comerford in March 2018, McCarron measured a deft lob to beat Shiel and extend Monaghan’s lead to six points at 3-10 at 0-13.

And when Dublin’s James McCarthy was shown a red card minutes later, McCarron was reportedly excused for believing his 2-4 tally at this stage was going to send Monaghan over the line.

However, Dublin simply never knows when they are beaten, which Monaghan can attest to.

In February 2020, Seamus McEnaney’s side led Dublin by 10 points at one point in their Championship encounter at Croke Park only for the Sky Blues to come back strong and draw 1-15 apiece at Croke Park.

And when Rock scored a penalty after Eoin Murchan was fouled to level the game in the first minute of added time, some Monaghan fans surely thought back to two years ago.

McCarron did not play that day at Croke Park, and while maestro Conor McManus was introduced as a late replacement, he was determined to have the last laugh at Clones on Sunday.

McCarron hits the winning run
Seemingly immune to nerves, McCarron scores the winning point in injury time

And so, when Monaghan won a free-kick as the clock ticked into the 75th minute of an absorbing contest, McCarron collected the ball, stepped back a few yards, took a deep breath and sent a buzzer-beater to the- above the bar, prompting a deafening roar from home fans, one of whom was former Farney striker Paul Finlay.

“It was a really delightful display of Gaelic football skills,” Finlay told BBC Sport NI.

“He kicked the left, he kicked the right, he gave an important free kick at the end and he lobbed the goalkeeper.

“He showed everything that is good about Gaelic football. It was a really special performance.”

Monaghan is no stranger to escapist acts, of course. In addition to the past two years, Colin Walshe’s injury time scoring secured a relegation win over Donegal in 2016.

McCarron took center stage again this year, but given the media blackout following the GPA’s spending standoff with the GAA, he was unavailable for post-comment. match.

Had he been, he would almost certainly have deflected praise from his teammates, and rightly so.

Mohan, Darren Hughes, Conor McCarthy, Kieran Hughes. There were several almighty performances that helped Monaghan cross the line, and with the Ulster Championship just a month away, McEnaney probably wishes he could bottle this Dublin-defying formula.

The post-match scenes – McCarron hugging his father Ray, a former Monaghan player, and his mother Patricia – captured County Farney’s elation, but they weren’t the only Ulstermen to toast a another year in the Premier League with All-Ireland champions Tyrone and Donegal also securing one-point wins to retain their top-flight status on Sunday.

Having stunned Kerry en route to Sam last year, the Red Hands edged out Kingdom again with a first victory in Killarney since 2003.

Donegal, meanwhile, had their own stoppage-time hero in Paddy McBrearty, whose late scoring helped them beat Armagh 1-14 to 1-13.

In stark contrast to the euphoric scenes in Clones, however, a melee broke out after the final whistle in Letterkenny as tempers frayed ahead of their next Ulster Championship clash.

A potentially explosive renewal of knowledge between these two counties could be a provincial scenario in the coming weeks, but so is Monaghan’s push for a first Ulster Championship since 2015.

And after a thrilling league campaign, we hope the Championship will deliver similar levels of excitement.

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