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.