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Brolly: Dubs will wilt

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Pundit Joe Brolly. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Pundit Joe Brolly. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Pundit Joe Brolly. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

THEY'VE just won the league. They've won it the free-wheeling way and they've won it the hard way too, last Sunday. They boast a compelling mix of All-Ireland winning experience and precocious youth too.

But Joe Brolly is not convinced.

He reckons that, when the heat is turned up at the business end of summer, the Dubs might wilt.

A headline-grabbing stunt? Brolly being Brolly? Or rather some forensic analysis from a high-profile barrister who also qualifies as a man who knows what it takes to win an All-Ireland?

Maybe there are elements of all the above in Brolly's dissection of Dublin's Allianz League final escape-to-victory over Tyrone.

The Sunday Game panellist wouldn't be the first pundit to highlight flaws in Dublin's display (Eugene McGee wrote of some forwards being "lost for ideas" against Tyrone's massed defence) but Brolly has gone further.

His pre-championship analysis in a nutshell? Donegal, notwithstanding relegation, remain the logical choice for All-Ireland coronation ahead of a chasing top-flight pack (Division Two can forget it!) that includes the newly crowned Division One champions.

Asked specifically if Dublin can win the All-Ireland playing the expansive style that has been their league hallmark, Brolly reckons they are "there or thereabouts" but then adds: "Tyrone are no mean team but they're very, very defensive and they're not good at getting scores. You would have expected the Dubs to win by more, if they were really where they need to be. And they didn't do that.

"Also, I felt that a lack of confidence started to spread through the team as the game went on. (Bernard) Brogan was taken off. Dean Rock's two points came out of the blue at a time when it really looked as though Tyrone were more solid, more composed.

Pressure

"So the big question mark is are the Dubs going to wilt? Are the Dubs going to be able to stay the distance? Because they looked, to me, like a team that are well capable of wilting under severe pressure. It depends who gets through ... I mean they might be lucky, Donegal might not get through."

To describe the Sam Maguire favourites in such pejorative terms might seem harsh, but Brolly counters with a comparison to the current All-Ireland benchmark.

"As the game wore on against Tyrone, you could see them starting to accept (that) 'this is just the way it's going to be'. Donegal never do that – Donegal keep busting through. They keep creating opportunities. You'll never see them for a moment flagging or wilting, even when things are against them. And I just didn't get that feel about that Dublin team."

He expands: "I thought the forwards in the Dublin team that were on the field eventually accepted their fate: 'Right, we've got no room here, we're not going to be able to get scores today, we'll just handpass it about.' Dean Rock changed that when he came on."

Based on the above, the 1993 All-Ireland winner can't see Dublin's Jim knocking Donegal's Jim off his September pedestal. But Brolly qualifies this assessment by saying: "The game plan now is breaking down the modern blanket defence. What Jim Gavin is trying to do is improve on what Pat Gilroy has done. Pat Gilroy put in place a good blanket defence and counter-attacking system.

"Jim Gavin is simply trying to increase the versatility of the Dubs," he adds. "He wants his corner-backs to score, he wants his half-backs to score, he wants everyone to be able to translate defence into attack and attack into defence very quickly.

"Because he has got no serious target man like (Michael) Murphy or (Colm) McFadden, they are adopting a more flexible running game. They do kick the ball longer than Tyrone, for example.

"I thought Sunday foreshadowed some of the difficulties the Dubs are going to have if they come up against a team like Donegal – because, strange and all as it may seem, Donegal will give Dublin even less room than Tyrone did, but also Donegal are more ruthless up front.

"Gavin is doing the right thing. He is increasing his versatility, he is introducing very good forwards, particularly (Paul) Mannion. The pace of the team is incredible now. He has gone for pace all over the team, even at midfield. But I think that current Dublin midfield would most definitely struggle against Donegal, for example – Neil Gallagher, Aidan Walsh, players like that."

Fanciful

Brolly is convinced that the winners of Donegal and Tyrone on May 26 will definitely win Ulster, with any talk of Monaghan or his native Derry dismissed as "fanciful". In an All-Ireland context he reckons Donegal remain the "most reliable bet", his belief predicated to a large degree on their "totally charismatic" and "very extraordinary" manager, Jim McGuinness.

"I think the league is irrelevant as far as Donegal is concerned and the only issue then is mentally," he ventured. "I asked Jim this at the weekend, how do you deal with this sort of orthodox belief that has grown up that you can't put All-Irelands back-to-back in football any more? How do you deal with that psychologically with the squad? And he says 'Well, you don't deal with it at all, we're just preparing for the Tyrone game. Nobody has ever mentioned winning a second All-Ireland' ... and when he tells you it, you believe it."

3 Joe Brolly was speaking at the launch of the 14th annual All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge, taking place at Waterford Castle Golf Club from September 12-14. All profits from this year's challenge will go towards Opt For Life (the campaign to make organ donation an opt-out system on the island of Ireland) and local Waterford charities.


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