We’re out of town for a final few days in the country before the kids go back to school this coming Thursday and today’s result at Croke Park means that when school reopens, there’ll be plenty of talk about Dublin’s qualification, after a sixteen-year absence, for next month’s All-Ireland final. And that’s before we even get to Vinnies next Saturday morning.
We’re in for a fun three weeks in the capital and although I’m sure the Dubs will have their own #nohypeplease campaign, it’ll be hard enough to keep a lid on the excitement as the days count down to the final. The fact that it’s Kerry they’re facing will soften their cough a bit but the sheer novelty of being back in the decider after such a long absence will exert its own momentum. As will the Evening Herald, I’m sure.
I saw most of today’s semi-final on the box and, in one sense, the less said about it, the better. As a seismic event in Gaelic football, it was right up (or, if you prefer, down) there with Tyrone’s infamous mugging of Kerry in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final but although the losers in that one also could only manage six points, the difference today was that it was the team attempting to do the mugging that ended up getting clocked themselves.
I wasn’t overly surprised by Donegal’s anti-football tactics today – they’ve been playing like this all summer and it was obvious that they would try to suffocate the Dubs in the same way that they managed to do so to Kildare for long stretches of that awful quarter-final a few weeks back. What did surprise me, though, was how poorly Dublin dealt with Donegal’s tactics and how slow they were to alter their approach to deal with the ultra-defensive challenge they were facing.
Donegal obviously lost the game in the third quarter. Three points up and virtually owning the ball for the best part of ten minutes, another point or two then might have made the mountain too difficult to climb for Pat Gilroy’s men but instead the Herrin Gutters failed to press home their advantage and when the Dubs got back on level terms there was only going to be one winner. The only surprise at the end was that Dublin didn’t win by more.
Donegal’s use of the Tyrone playbook also extended to plenty of playacting and Manus Boyle’s theatrical dive after exchanging a few timid blows with Diarmuid Connolly was an utter disgrace. Sure, Connolly should never have got involved and when Boyle hit the deck the red card was understandable (though to my mind unjustified) but it’ll be hard on the Vinnies man to miss the final over such an incident. I’d say we could see strenuous efforts by Dublin to get their man cleared on appeal.
How the final will go is one for another day but Donegal’s tactics and what such an approach could mean for the future of football is sure to provoke furious debate over the coming days. I’m not sure that there’s too much call for any serious outbreak of outrage – after all, puke football has been with us now for the best part of a decade and while Tyrone’s approach to the game from 2003 onwards has often been cynical and negative, they’ve also had within their ranks a group of seriously talented footballers and it was their devastating attack, not just their swarm defence, that ultimately won them their three All-Irelands.
On today’s evidence, although Donegal seemed to get the bit about defending (holding Dublin scoreless from play for a full hour proves this), they didn’t or couldn’t do the attacking bit sufficiently well, despite having a player of Michael Murphy’s calibre in their ranks. Without this in their kitbag they were never going to reach the All-Ireland, still less win it and, as a result, I’m not sure we need to worry all that much about the prospect of seeing a load of Donegal clones in next year’s championship.