Dublin showdown with Donegal too close to call
Dublin's semi-final showdown with Donegal looks too close to call, but Colm Keys examines some of the key areas that will decide which of these two sides joins Kerry in next month's All-Ireland final
They share many similarities: a heavy defensive orientation, a couple of key forwards who have the potential to shoot the lights out, young managers who leave nothing to chance with their preparations and have conviction about the way their teams should play.
But what does Sunday's much-anticipated All-Ireland semi-final come down to?
Decisions on match-ups, dominance in certain duels, faith in the way they play and back-up from the bench.
Which Brogan for Karl Lacey?
Lacey has developed a reputation for snapping ruthlessly at the heels of pacey and skilful attackers in recent years and that reputation has earned him two All Stars as a corner-back.
But under Jim McGuinness he has been reinvented as Donegal's centre-back, at the heart of a defensive system that has shown discipline and structure in all five championship games to date.
Already he looks like a certainty to be shortlisted for Footballer of the Year on the back of what he has done so far.
But his success at centre-back leaves McGuinness and Rory Gallagher with a dilemma. Do they stick with him in that role and delegate him to track Alan Brogan, his opposite number if they take up selected positions? Or do they send him back in to the danger zone where Bernard Brogan will lurk menacingly?
The younger Brogan has been less effective in 2011 -- he has accounted for just 25.6pc of Dublin's scores so far this year, as opposed to 44.4pc last year, but he showed sure signs of a return to his 2010 form in the last 45 minutes against Tyrone.
Alan's form has been better, with three Man of the Match awards reeled off in successive Leinster championship matches, and his link play between defence and attack has been the significant building block in Dublin's success this year.
It's a huge decision for McGuinness and Gallagher. They have Frank McGlynn as Bernard Brogan's probable marker.
But would Lacey not offer greater security on Bernard's re-emerging threat?
Who has the greater patience?
Patience will be the greatest virtue for the winners of this game. What Dublin have to get their minds around is that they are most unlikely to have a night like the quarter-final against Tyrone.
A close inspection of the first half of Donegal's All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kildare offers the best insight as to how it is more likely to unfold.
Both sides like to invite opponents on to them if they can and hit them on the break, but Dublin will probably blink first in that instance and seek to punch holes earlier.
They have showed patience in two of their championship games already this season. Against Laois they were quite content to maintain a steady rhythm in the knowledge that they would eventually get the breaks that they did and they replicated that against Wexford, albeit with the benefit of Graeme Molloy's own goal.
But against Donegal they can expect a slow bicycle race. Dublin know how they set up and they know that the opportunity to hit them on the break quickly, as they did against Tyrone, won't come often.
Rory O'Carroll v Michael Murphy
The standout personal duel of the day. When these two came face-to-face last in a championship match, O'Carroll prevailed in the All-Ireland U-21 final and won the subsequent Hero of the Match award for diminishing the threat of the Donegal danger man. That was more than 15 months ago.
O'Carroll relishes taking on a bigger and equally physical opponent like Murphy. It was only when Colm O'Neill, quicker and more elusive, came on in last year's All-Ireland semi-final that he looked troubled.
Murphy's influence on this Donegal team is best reflected in his Ulster final contribution. Every second-half score except one had his imprint on it in either its creation or finish.
O'Carroll will have a cavalry around him as Dublin deploy their usual defensive screen with Denis Bastick and Michael Darragh Macauley dropping back to allow Ger Brennan to play his libero role.
It's hard to make a case for Donegal if Murphy does not do damage against O'Carroll and that's why this battle is pivotal.
Who has the greater hand to play off the bench?
Eoghan O'Gara has returned to full fitness after damaging his hand, so that gives Dublin their first obvious option off the bench if Donegal manage to tie up Diarmuid Connolly, or Barry Cahill's roving role isn't as effective as it was against Kildare.
O'Gara divides opinion, but if a game needs a different direction then route one to the bustling full-forward is something Gilroy is sure to embrace sooner rather than later.
After that, Dublin hold most of the aces and Gilroy hasn't been afraid to make some very big calls this season. Both Connolly and Bernard Brogan have been replaced.
Their best options are at midfield, where Ross McConnell and Eamon Fennell are primed and ready in defence while Philly McMahon and Paul Conlon have built up experience as effective corner-backs. Donegal's depth was tested against Kildare in extra-time when they reintroduced three players that they had previously taken off and took off two substitutes that they brought in. But their young management duo have shown with the early replacement of Paddy McBrearty and Paddy McGrath the last day that they are not afraid to make changes.
Still, McGuinness and Gallagher will hope that five only are required this time with Dermot Molloy, Kevin Rafferty, Christy Toye, Eamonn McGee and Martin McElhinney their best options.
Who has the mental resolve to seize the day?
Dublin's All-Ireland semi-final record over the last decade is excruciatingly painful. Four defeats, three by one point, one by two, each one snatched in the last 10 minutes when Dublin looked in command. Only a few have been exposed to all four defeats, but they live to tell the tale to the rest. Make no mistake about it this is the defining moment for this Dublin team. Everything they have done will be essentially worthless if they don't prevail this time against a team that has sprung from nowhere.
But they are doing everything, playing a game that suits their component parts and look in the best shape of their lives. Is that enough?