Tuesday 6 December 2016

Dismal Donegal blown away by blue whirlwind

Dublin 1-20 Donegal 0-13

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan McHugh, Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, in action against Ryan McHugh, Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's Bernard Brogan celebrates after scoring the game's only goal. Photo: Sportsfile
10 April 2016; Patrick McBrearty, Donegal, holds off the challenge of Cian O'Sullivan, Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, attempts to jink past Eamon McGee, Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, scores his side's first goal past Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley. Photo: Sportsfile

This was a historic occasion as possibly the last ever NFL semi-final but it can't lay any other claim to fame on a day when Dublin functioned with trademark efficiency and Donegal imploded.

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It was certainly the last semi-final for the foreseeable future after the recent decision to grant the top two teams direct access to the final from next year on but that system applied between 2008 and 2011, only to be changed in 2012.

Yesterday's two semi-finals did nothing to support the case that the top four should be given a chance to win the Division 1 title as both the third and fourth-placed sides were beaten by 10 points.

Roscommon's suffering against Kerry wasn't a real surprise, given that they are still in the relatively early stages of development and not yet equipped to cope with such experienced opposition in Croke Park.

Donegal's demise was altogether different. They are one of the most battle-hardened outfits in the game, yet were ripped apart by opponents who looked as if they had plenty in reserve if the occasion demanded.

Unsustainable

Donegal will try to shrug it off under the 'League isn't a priority' excuse but that's unsustainable this time. They got away with it after being hit for 4-11 by Cork in last year's League semi-final but the circumstances are altogether different now.

Their Ulster Championship opener against Tyrone was in mid-May last year, whereas their first outing this year (v Antrim or Fermanagh) is scheduled for June 12, affording them plenty of time to streamline their preparations even if they reached the League final.

The reality of yesterday's game is one of Dublin posing a test for which Donegal had no answers to even the most basic questions. Jim Gavin's men didn't have do anything special to establish a superiority that would have been far more marked on the scoreboard except for some desperate defending that prevented a few goals.

Bernard Brogan's 28th-minute drive for goal was blocked by Rory Kavanagh; Paul Mannion's shot drew an excellent save from Mark Anthony McGinley in the 44th minute and Johnny Small's goal-bound effort was diverted over the bar by Neil McGee a few minutes later.

Dublin's only goal came in the opening minute of the second half when Brogan finished expertly off a perfectly-weighted footpass by Philly McMahon. It underlined most emphatically that vision, supported by skill and accuracy, can crack the best defensive codes.

Ultra-tight security has been at the core of Donegal's game for the past five years but there are clear signs that it's beginning to disintegrate.

The manner in which McMahon was allowed to thread his pass through to Brogan was as surprising as the amount of space the ace finisher found as he bore down on the Donegal goal.

Donegal's policy of packing their defence and working off counter-attacks looks jaded now. Opponents have not only worked it out, they are actually feeding off it.

Hence no fewer than five Dublin defenders scored yesterday, happily showing their shooting skills while pursuing Donegal forwards who had funnelled back into their own half.

That play-book has seen its best days and while it might continue to take Donegal a certain distance in the Championship it won't help re-establish contact with Sam Maguire.

They might have been happy with how it worked for the first half-hour yesterday, a period in which they restricted Dublin to a four-point lead (0-9 to 0-5) while playing against the strong wind. By half-time, Dublin were five points ahead (0-11 to 0-6).

They had to face the wind on the restart but that mattered little, once Brogan pounced for the early goal. Donegal enjoyed a productive spell midway through the half, scoring three quick points, but it wasn't long before Dublin regained control.

They outscored their increasingly frustrated opponents 0-5 to 0-2 in the last 15 minutes, by which stage the tempo had dropped to challenge game proportions.

Dwindling

Donegal's woes were vividly illustrated by Michael Murphy's dwindling influence, best characterised by his inaccuracy. He kicked five wides in the second half, including a free from no more than 35 metres.

Donegal need Murphy to be on his game to have any chance against the better opposition but with James McCarthy ever-present by his side, the Donegal captain found it very difficult to make an impact.

Patrick McBrearty was the only Donegal forward to really test a Dublin defence where McCarthy and Cian O'Sullivan were consistently impressive. Brian Fenton did well at midfield while man-of-the-match Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Flynn and Brogan caused serious problems for the Donegal defence. Mannion, Dean Rock and Paddy Andrews had their moments too.

All this without Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly or Eoghan O'Gara being on the match-day panel, which shows just how much attacking talent Gavin has at his disposal.

Dublin scored 1-20 yesterday without ever being on full throttle. They looked so comfortable in the second half that it must have been deeply disillusioning for Donegal, who had fared better in the group clash with Dublin two weeks earlier.

Ultimately, they came up six points short in that game but they kept it alive for much longer than they did yesterday.

It was very depressing for Donegal, who not only slumped to their fifth successive defeat but also looked like a side that had run out of ideas.

In contrast, Dublin were energetic and enterprising as they extended their unbeaten run in League and Championship to 21 games.

That's quite an achievement and with the prospect of becoming the first county since Kerry in 1971-74 to win four successive League titles now a real possibility, they will have added motivation in the final.

Quite simply, everything is going their way these days as they continue to build an empire which is likely to accumulate a whole lot more riches.

As for Donegal, this was the worst possible pre-Championship send-off they could have got. Indeed, they might have been better off to have missed the semi-final cut rather than be subjected to such a demoralising defeat.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (3fs, 1 '45'), B Brogan 1-2, C Kilkenny 0-3, P Andrews, P Mannion 0-2 each, J McCarthy, P McMahon, J Small, C Costello, J Cooper, E Lowndes 0-1 each.

Donegal: P McBrearty 0-8 (5f), M Murphy 0-4 (4f), McElhinney 0-1.

Dublin - S Cluxton 7; P McMahon 7, J Cooper 7, D Byrne 7; J McCarthy 7, C O'Sullivan 8, J Small 7; B Fenton 8, D Bastick 7; P Flynn 8,D Rock 7, C Kilkenny 9; P Mannion 7, P Andrews 7, B Brogan 8. Subs: C Costello 6 for Andrews (45), E Lowndes 6 for Bastick (48), M Fitzsimons 6 for McMahon (52), Shane B Carthy 6 for Flynn (61), K O'Brien 6 for Cooper (61), Shane Carthy for O'Sullivan (66).

Donegal - MA McGinley 7; P McGrath 6, N McGee 6, E McGee 5; R McHugh 6, K Lacey 6, C Gillespie 6; R Kavanagh 6, O MacNiallais 5; M O'Reilly 5, M McElhinney 6, F McGlynn 5; P McBrearty 8, M Murphy 5, L McLoone 5. Subs: S McBrearty 5 for O'Reilly (14), C McGonagle 5 for MacNiallais (50), C McFadden 5 for McElhinney (52), E Gallagher for McLoone (67), C Toye for Kavanagh (67), J O'Brien for Gillespie (71).

Ref - M Deegan (Laois)

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