Eugene McGee: Sands of time catching up on Donegal
There were very contrasting messages from Dublin and Donegal in the League semi-final at Croke Park yesterday. Donegal showed many of the signs of a great team in serious decline; Dublin looked like a side who are capable not only of preserving their status as the best team in the land, but actually adding to their stature in the coming season.
Wear and tear takes its toll on county teams sooner than was the case say 20 years ago.
The huge increase on the physical and mental demands, particularly the dramatic increase in physical commitments in training, means that players cannot maintain their peak form after four or five years competing at the highest level.
Donegal are showing that now as several of their older players are struggling to achieve the standards that were second nature to them in recent times.
In contrast, Dublin - apart from the younger players on duty - also have steady supply of talented players in their early 20s.
This eases the pressure on the older stars and gives them more breathing space during the League.
Dublin waltzed around Croke Park at their ease yesterday and never looked like being beaten.
Donegal still have the tactical techniques bequeathed from Jim McGuinness, but the novelty of that style has not alone worn thin but has been copied by most other county teams.
Yesterday we often saw Kerry and Dublin playing the same defensive system as that perfected by Donegal five years ago.
When Donegal and a team which has imitated them come head-to-head, it's not a pretty sight.
Fourteen players in their own half of the field is now quite normal from Dublin or Kerry despite comments to the contrary from the two camps.
Brilliance, of course, always shines through in football regardless of the latest tactical fads.
And so it was yesterday from Ciarán Kilkenny, Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion among others. It's no coincidence that these three are all forwards and that helps explains why Dublin are the best.
You can always make a backline in football, particularly with the massed defence approach, but you need real talent to have great forwards.
The upcoming league final against Kerry should be a game to savour because of the amount of forward talent that will be on view.
All is not perfect with Dublin. They were quick to concede frees when there was no need to against the Donegal forwards.
In the 52nd minute, no less than four Dublin backs joined in to pull down Paddy McBrearty and no doubt that will be studied carefully when the mentors look at the recording.
Overall, though, it looks like Dublin and Donegal are heading in opposite directions with regards to winning All-Irelands.