Monday 22 December 2014

Are Donegal the only team capable of spoiling the Dublin party?

Published 22/07/2014 | 13:59

Dublin's Alan Brogan in action against Donegal's Frank McGlynn during the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final
Dublin's Alan Brogan in action against Donegal's Frank McGlynn during the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final

Last weekend’s action in the football championship served to reinforce two trails of thought. Firstly, Dublin are edging close to unbeatable status and secondly, Donegal may be the only team capable of spoiling the party.

Picking up from where they left off last year, the Dubs have been swatting away their rivals with minimal ease. Indeed the most alarming element of their 53rd provincial success against their neighbours Meath last time out was the fact they rarely appeared to be out of third gear, yet still coasted to 16 point win.

On current form few teams look capable of toppling the reigning champions, and it appears a sudden loss of form for the boys in blue or a large slice of fortune will be required to end their quest to become back-to-back champions. Both are most likely to be needed.

A scan over the remaining challengers will do little to strike fear into the heart of the Dubs. Kerry were imperious against Cork in the Munster Final, but the shambolic performance from the Rebels must be factored in. The loss of the Gooch and Tomas O’Se, their struggles in the National League and their loss at the semi-final stage last year will dampen optimism in the Kingdom.

After a bright start to the year, Cork’s challenge looks far more feeble, with their slump in form stemming from their collapse against Dublin in the league semi-final. Not that they are the first team to be on the receiving end of a blitzing in Croke Park.

Leinster will provide no other serious challengers at the business end of the season and while Mayo will look to make it third time lucky after successive final defeats, the same question remains from last year. Do Mayo possess enough firepower to outscore Dublin?

Cillian O’Connor has been one of the star performers of 2014, tormenting Galway in the Connacht Final, but he may lack the support around him to tip the scales in their favour in September, even if they were to see off the challenge of Kerry in the semi-final.

Monaghan’s confidence will have been affected after they relinquished the Anglo-Celt Cup to Donegal. They will be a difficult nut to crack, but similar to Mayo, may be overly reliant on one forward for their scores.

It could be their conquerors Donegal that prove to be the side that will serve Dublin their biggest challenge.

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Should the two teams continue their winning ways, they are due to meet in what would be a mouth-watering contest on August 31st. A dramatic clash of styles, it would be sure to have even the most passive GAA fan intrigued.

Donegal's famed defensive prowess is central to Jim McGuinness’ strategy and has been clearly evident in Ulster on the way to re-claiming provincial honours.

They have conceded just 11 (Derry), 12 (Antrim) and 10 (Monaghan) scores in their three outings and as prolific as the Dubs have been in front of the posts, even their artillery may find the going tough against such a disciplined defensive system.

Some have argued that the current crop are not quite at the level of the 2012 side. Certainly the case can be made that the Dublin have improved significantly since then also, but if any side has the potential to frustrate Jim Gavin’s all-conquering side, it’s the men in yellow and green.

The 2011 All-Ireland semi-final, where Dublin prevailed on an almost soccer score line of eight points to six will be remembered as one of the most defensive displays ever witnessed in Croke Park and for long periods Dublin ran out of ideas. The dismissal of Diarmuid Connolly didn't help matters from a Dublin perspective.

Interestingly, the main protagonists that day will renew rivalry should the two sides meet later in the summer. Four of Dublin’s forwards that started in that two-point victory three years ago were in the line-up that faced Meath at the weekend, while Kevin McManamon contributed a priceless point after his introduction from the bench.

The Donegal rearguard has undergone little change also. Of the six defenders that squared off against Monaghan in Clones, only Neil McGee missed the last championship joust with the Dubs.

There is a lot of football to play before the end of August and the fixture might not come to pass. If however both teams continue their current trends, then the most eagerly awaited fixture of this year's championship may take place at the penultimate stage.

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