| 4°C Dublin

Donegal's Dub reaction


Dublin’s Denis Bastick tries to hold off Donegal’s Neil Gallagher in last year’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash in Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin’s Denis Bastick tries to hold off Donegal’s Neil Gallagher in last year’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash in Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin’s Denis Bastick tries to hold off Donegal’s Neil Gallagher in last year’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash in Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Brendan Devenney is the Mystic Meg who said Donegal would defeat Dublin - "no doubt about it" - were they to meet in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.

Fast-forward 19 months: Dublin and Donegal are preparing to renew their very modern and very intense rivalry under the Croke Park lights this Saturday night.

And, this time, the retired Donegal sharpshooter-turned-pundit isn't nearly as bullish about the projected outcome of this Allianz Football League showdown.

His caution stems partially from Jim Gavin's tactical adjustments since the gung-ho days of 2014 - and even more from Donegal's recent dip.

After three Division 1 rounds they boasted six points, having amassed 6-43.

But this flying start has been followed by back-to-back setbacks in Kerry (a war of attrition immediately tagged 'The Melee in Tralee') and at home to Roscommon, by 1-19 to 0-17.

"What's the saying about a week in politics? In seven days Donegal went from everyone thinking they'd be in a league final to potential relegation candidates," Devenney remarks, in conversation with The Herald.

"Just two games kind of unhinged them. I wasn't that worried about the Kerry game because of (a) the s*** that went on and (b) the conditions. I just felt it was one those games where Kerry were desperate (for victory). But the Roscommon game - that sent alarm bells ringing in Donegal.

"We're hoping it was a one-off or a blip, because Roscommon looked like the best Gaelic team I've almost ever seen."

Wide open

Whereas Donegal, contrary to the stereotype fostered under Jim McGuinness and even now under Rory Gallagher, were "wide open" that day.

"Man for man we were in trouble," Devenney points out. "Now, Roscommon were brilliantly gelled … they completely played us off the park and should have beaten us by more, which sounds crazy, but they should have won by maybe ten points at least."

Hence his uncertainty now, even while spying signs this spring of a more potent Donegal going forward.

"I'm not sure what's going on tactically," he admits. "We're dropping players back, don't get me wrong, but we're quite happy to engage wherever it is.

"Mayo was a cracking game, Mayo just went for it and we matched them, and it ended up being a brilliant, almost old-style, game of football. But Roscommon played a very definite system ... we needed to be right on the money and we ended up being so far off it."

Donegal should still avoid relegation - even six points could well be enough. But Devenney, like most of his fellow county men, craves a reaction in Croker this weekend.


"You saw the reaction from Cork that night against Dublin. They obviously were backs to the wall and had shipped a load of criticism," he explains.

"Donegal will be thinking 'We can't have a back-to-back bad performance' … if they're going to be there later on in the summer, they're going to have to be able to cope with Dublin's pace and power.

"How defensively are we set up? Can we cope with Dublin's roving attack, the likes of Connolly and Brogan? It didn't seem as if we could stop Roscommon. So I think that's a massive psychological thing for our defence, if we can stop them."

As for Dublin and who they'll be missing this summer, he surmises that they might have options in the full-back line to cover for the loss of Rory O'Carroll whereas they must plan without Jack McCaffrey's "complete explosive pace. I don't think there's anybody who can cope with that at times ... so it's certainly a big blow, and maybe it gives the rest of us a chance!"

Few people gave anyone else a chance in 2014. But back then, even before either had secured safe passage through the last-eight, Devenney was predicting Dublin's semi-final demise against Donegal.

"It wasn't bravado, to be honest! Now, it did cause some furore at the time, because I explained before I said it that this was with respect to Armagh … we just about beat them," he recounts.

"What I felt was Dublin were wide open; for an all-out attack to be playing an all-out defence, I just thought there could only be one winner there. Because Donegal were very, very solid. And I just thought if you defend an all-out attack and it goes wrong, then what's your Plan B?


"Now, don't get me wrong, ten minutes into that game I was thinking 'Gulp!' But once the tide started to turn, I could feel it straight away: 'These guys are playing into Donegal's hands'.

"Dublin very much wised up from that, and probably still hold a wee grudge against Donegal which mightn't do us any favours come Saturday," he concluded.