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ALL this idle speculation about the Mother of All Semi-Finals between Dublin and Donegal must be like manna from heaven for Paul Grimley and Kieran McGeeney.

Donegal to end 'siege' ahead of ultimate battle

ALL this idle speculation about the Mother of All Semi-Finals between Dublin and Donegal must be like manna from heaven for Paul Grimley and Kieran McGeeney.

Armagh have been in siege mentality lockdown for two months; now they are being further 'disrespected' by presumptuous pundits discussing who'll win when the two Jims lock tactical antlers on August 31.

First up for Donegal (and Dublin) there's the small matter of a quarter-final.

Jim McGuinness, being the meticulous man he is, has probably spent many hours this year concocting strategies to strangle Dublin's multi-pronged attack.

But that won't have intruded on his preparations for this weekend. He will know that Armagh are utterly transformed from last season - even last spring, when relegation to Division Three ensued.

Once their casualty list abated, they evolved into a far more secure unit, able to switch from a well-drilled blanket defence into swift counter-attack mode via accurate foot-passing.

Jamie Clarke is their obvious go-to man, but last weekend he was confined to a solitary point thanks to Donal Keogan's suffocating excellence ... and still Armagh won comfortably, 0-18 to 0-13. That's a positive, but now they'll need more from Clarke and everyone else besides.

There was something ominous about the manner of Donegal's third Ulster title in four seasons. They didn't destroy anyone on the scoreboard (apart from Antrim, in the second half) but their ability to keep opponents at arm's length was chillingly reminiscent of 2012. Monaghan, essentially, were hammered by three points.

Players who were carrying injuries or looked otherwise shattered last summer are back moving with energy and intent. The loss of Mark McHugh has been compensated for by the buzzing form of his ball-carrying younger brother, Ryan.

A previously shallow squad has been bolstered, notably with the coming-of-age of point-scoring midfielder Odhran MacNiallais. They could afford to start Paddy McBrearty on the bench against Monaghan - cue three uplifting points on his arrival.

They aren't foot-perfect yet. Their massed defence generally swamped Monaghan but were opened up by a turnover (leading to a goal chance that should have been a penalty) and then again by a fumble (leading to a Chris McGuinness goal).

At the other end, Colm McFadden is miles shy of his stellar All-Ireland year standard while Michael Murphy is subjugating his attacking instincts for the collective middle-third cause.

But they remain, if not the best team around, the hardest one to beat. It will take a lot more than media bans and siege mentalities to stop them.

ODDS: Donegal 1/3, Draw 10/1, Armagh 3/1

VERDICT: Donegal


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