The semi-final showdowns – Part 2: Dublin v Donegal

Our 2011 championship campaign may be over but there’s still an All-Ireland there to be won this year and this coming Sunday sees Dublin take on Donegal for the right to face Kerry in the final. JPM returns to the guest slot to run the rule over this weekend’s semi-finalists.  

Even though it’s difficult to put pen to paper after what happened last Sunday, the realisation is that the clocks still tick and the bandwagon still moves on. Each day the sun rises and the championship is a little nearer the pinnacle for this year. On the other side of the draw there are still two teams remaining to slug it out for this year’s right to meet Kerry and claim the ultimate glory.

Whereas before the suspicion was that Dublin were a one-man team, the quarter-final display against Tyrone has put that proposition through the mill and consequently flattened nearly everyone’s negative opinion regards their ability to win Sam McGuire. Mickey Harte conceded after the match that even two sweepers for Tyrone could not have defended against the level this Dublin team displayed that evening. The final score of 0-22 to 0-15 was emphatic but in fairness the margin could and should have been far greater. Dublin spurned at least four clear goal opportunities and on another drier day you would expect them to take at least two of these.

But it was not just the achievement of victory that was important; the manner of Dublin’s scoring was astonishing. Of the twenty-two points scored, nineteen were from play. And going through the stats probably 50% of these were from thirty yards or further out. Led by Diarmuid Connolly’s seven points, they demolished Tyrone in all sectors of the field and the importance of the victory is hugely significant. It has taken the pressure off them and everyone now realises there is more to the team than just Bernard Brogan and mediocrity. There is also Alan, Connolly and Barry Cahill not to mention the whole Dublin defence. And of course there is Stephen Cluxton.

Cluxton has been in this Dublin team for over 10 years. Throughout this time he has seen both the highs and lows but he has remained a constant competitor and under Pat Gilroy is arguably playing the football of his career. As a goalkeeper he has it all. He is agile, quick and brave. He may not be a big man but he has the ability to dictate games from his own area and not many goalkeepers in GAA can claim this. His short and long kickouts are unerringly accurate and when Dublin’s strategy demands fast delivery of the ball he also provides. No sooner has an opposition attack ended than Cluxton has the spare ball tossed out and is looking for a free man to get it to. This ability to speed up play gives Dublin a serious edge and roared on by their 80,000 supporters they now stand up as genuine contenders against any opposition.

But now against Donegal can they repeat the Tyrone performance and gain revenge for that 1992 All Ireland Final defeat? The dream final may be what the pundits and the papers want but apple carts are often prone to collapse especially when so much hype and pressure are brought to bear on them.

And Donegal have also their own stars to call upon. First of all there is the captain and main man, the mighty Michael Murphy. DOB: 04/08/1989. Height 6’2”.  Named Young Footballer of the Year in 2009 when he was top scorer in the championship that year up to the All-Ireland Final, pipped at the post by the Gooch. Now two years on and he is still only 21 and is leading his county. His size and power are immense and his ability to win hard ball and take scores off both feet have been demonstrated in every game so far in the championship. Alongside side him sits Colm McFadden. Again 6’2” and carrying a bruising 14 stone 3 lbs to punch along with it, McFadden makes this full forward line a formidable weapon to have in any holster.

In addition the talk before the Kildare match was that both Murphy and McFadden were injured. If that was the case then Donegal’s credentials as contenders are even more emphatic. Kildare attempted to beat Donegal by scoring from distance but couldn’t do it and Donegal’s comeback from three points down in extra-time showed they are made of stern stuff.

Donegal are not Tyrone and their defending will not be as loose or as flimsy. To date their defence has kept them in the championship, conceding on average just nine points per game. Karl Lacey is another man worthy of mention in this Donegal team. The rock at the heart of this Donegal defence, the ‘Four Masters’ man is a two-time All-Star, Vocational Schools winner, National League winner and most of all an experienced hard-hitting defender who will definitely not give the Dublin attack the leeway afforded them thus far. It is safe to assume that Dublin will not be given the same latitude offered by Tyrone and they won’t bounce Donegal out of their way as casually as they seemed to with Tyrone. Donegal have the physicality (and the will) to hit them back just as hard.

Donegal’s main problem, however, may be scoring enough. Because of their set-up, generally only three players are based in the opposition half and if these guys don’t perform well, then it could be curtains. However in the Kildare game their other players did stand up to the mark and contributed 1-9 between them. The question is will they have to repeat this act if they are to succeed against this Dublin team.

The likelihood is that this may not be a classic. Semi-finals rarely are. However it will be intriguing. Dublin’s high tempo football versus Donegal’s resolute defending. The theory behind the blanket defence will be scrutinised completely here and it should give a clearer picture as to whether or not it stands up in the modern game. Donegal will go into this as clear underdogs but this might not be an accurate reflection of the Ulster champions. As they have proved so far winning is what matters and if that means winning ugly, so be it. 

8 thoughts on “The semi-final showdowns – Part 2: Dublin v Donegal

  1. Very nice, JPM.
    I think Donegal will frustrate Dublin, but in the end, won’t be able to score enough to win. Dubs by five points or so.

  2. I think those Kerry lads want to go out on a high facetheball. Leaving one behind and then bowing out is not a trait I’d associate with most Kerry players down through the years.

  3. Looks like Kerrys reign as a superpower will come to an end within the next 2 years. Relatively old team and not a huge amount of young talent coming through. Walsh in Australia. The championship is going to open up and its only a matter of time that we see some of the median teams of the last 20 years making a big break through.
    Donegal are ultra defensive and aren’t pretty to watch, but as a coach/manager Jim McGuiness has done an exceptional job. Uniting a bunch of lunatics, who in fairness have no shortage of talent could not have been easy, no implosions on the beer have happened yet either. Donegal will not be beaten easily on Sunday. Would like to see Donegal winning to sicken the Kerry-Dublin love in types and in fairness us westerners have more in common with the men from the hills than those jackeens or kingdom gobda’s.

  4. Connolly’s made a huge difference to Dublin – he adds such a different dimension to their attack. Last year they were relying on O’Gara as the talisman. That plan was always fatally flawed.

    I would wonder though if Dublin are up for the mental challenge that Donegal with present to them? There are some players on that Dublin team who have gotten frustrated in the past and lost their discipline. If it happens again, Donegal can punish them.

    Even though Donegal are a defensive team, they aren’t a low-scoring one, a point McGuinness himself has been at pains to make. As JPM says, it’ll be a fascinating encounter.

  5. This is one that has me confused. Dublin have a lot of Mayo’s traits. When we played them in the league they gave us a master class for 20 minutes. Then the roof fell in and we should have beaten them.

    Depends which Dublin turns up. Both sides have made their names beating Kildare…one of the most overrated and over hyped teams this season and the last few. Deep down I see Dublin and by as much as 8 or 9.

  6. It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top in this one. We in Mayo are a long standing joke in national circles for our lack of success on All Ireland final day over the last 15 years or so, but in that same 15 years an equally poor but far less heralded record in All Ireland semi finals for the Dubs tend to be conveniently overlooked by the gaa public in Ireland. Semi Final defeats in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2009, not to mention various losses at the quarter final stages inbetween those years mean that this game is pivotal for Dublin. Of the 2 sides, the Jackeens can ill afford to lose as it would surely spell the end for some of their main players, and in addition cement this group of player’s status as annual AI series chokers for another year at least, while Donegal will still be happy enough with their season going into 2012 even if they lose on sunday.
    In my book their is still a huge question mark over Connolly, apart from the Tyrone game he looked very ordinary this year in the championship, if he delivers again on sunday against a tenacious Donegal defence then we can take him seriously as a championship player.
    I think Donegal have a real chance in this match, the Dubs dont tend to wear the overwhelming favourites tag very well (then again does anyone apart from Kerry??), and no matter what tired old cliches the players come out with about not believing the hype, the weight of expectation will have a negative impact on the team come Sunday. When you hear a team continually saying that they are not sucked in by hype etc,etc, then they are actually showing that they are listening to it. The Cork camp before the Mayo game was a good example. Whether this will be enough to allow Donegal a chance of victory remains to be seen. Alan Brogan is likely to be the key man and if he is allowed to play as well as he can then the Dubs might just edge it. Either way I can’t see past the Kingdom for a 37th All Ireland in September.

  7. Dublin to win easing up against Donegal like Kerry against us, then the Dubs to turn over them Kerry yerra men (please god) my only worry is this Kerry team is like a dying wasp and have one last sting in them!

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