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Final fling for Dublin

YOU'VE heard a lot about systems this week and mostly with regard to Donegal.

But listen to these recent thoughts of Jim McGuinness for a second.

"Dublin are unbelievably systematic: how they position their full forwards, their centre forward role . . . they churn these things out on the training ground.

"I firmly believe that the top, top teams are so good at what they do that they actually give other teams an opportunity to beat them.

"They are so good at what they do, their patterns become clear."

For context, these words were spoken back in June, not at the recent Donegal press evening when the 'Roman Abramovich' line was tossed out like a distracting flash grenade and every thought from McGuinness on the subject of Dublin was complimentary to the point of being gushing.

And there's logic to it, too.

Donegal, as we know, are in thrall to their system. Without either its genius or their devotion to it, they never would have won the 2012 All-Ireland.

penetrating

But McGuinness's first point was that Dublin are no different … only in a completely different way.

It stared with Pat Gilroy and Mickey Whelan and, this week, Whelan gave as concise an explanation of their method as we've heard.

"When you don't have the ball, you press to get it back again," he said. "The method of pressing is a different thing ... but you always pressed the ball to get it back.

"When you have the ball, you're trying to make penetrating passes to score. So that means everyone is offensive-minded when you have the ball.

"Does that mean that everybody charges forward? No. And when we don't have the ball, everybody's defensive.

"So we always attacked and we always defended. We just had a balance. And it was a system that every player knew his role.

"So this has been a natural evolution," he added, "of players getting more confident."

McGuinness's other point was that there is no element of uncertainty about Dublin going into tomorrow and in that, he is probably on the money too.

There are far more unknownables with Donegal - just the way he'd like it.

Such as where to play Michael Murphy.

Donegal will need something off almost every ball that goes in. Colm McFadden is out of sorts with his shooting.

Does that require a rare deployment of Donegal's captain in at full-forward, alongside Rory O'Carroll?

Chances are, he'll spend time, sporadically, at the edge of the square.

But he's their best player and the logic of a more central deployment (i.e. the more often he touches the ball, the better for Donegal) still applies.

And what to do on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

If you concede, as Monaghan did, Dublin will eventually punch holes with all that pace and all that possession and well-rehearsed, close-in hand-passing.

Designed

If you press, Dublin's runs are designed to open space into which Cluxton will accurately kick the ball to one of Dublin's perpetual-motion 'middle eight'.

The question, though, is not necessarily press or concede.

Rather: mark or go 'zonal'. And teams have had more joy with the later.

Remember, it's Dublin's astounding chance creation (46 shot per game on average) rather than their conversion rate, which has seen them blitz every team they've played this summer.

And to create scoring opportunities, you need that possession in the first place.

From a Dublin point of view, it will be interesting to see just how much and how high they press.

It's an important element of their style but at what limit?

If Donegal play with 13 behind the ball, how many does Jim Gavin send after them?

Dublin also need Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara to win early just as much as Donegal do, and they need to be just as patient - and more likely for longer - than they were against Monaghan in the quarter-final.

The psychological battle is key.

So it's imperative also that they keep calm. Trying to break down Donegal with 15 men is difficult enough. Any less could be fatal.

The likes of O'Gara and Michael Darragh Macauley should attract multiple tacklers and their handling will be tested, but it will be incumbent upon the likes of James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Alan Brogan to open up wider, more spacious cavities.

Again though, back to the theme of systems.

In all sports, there's a universal truth.

minimise

Firstly, that styles of play are conceived in order to minimise weaknesses in a team and highlight the strengths while by the same token, exposing the weaknesses in an opposition and in turn, limiting their strengths.

Simple.

Fact is, Dublin have far more strengths and many less (any?) weaknesses than Donegal. They have a good, road-tested system, too, lots of big-game, big-win experience and a bench McGuinness would chew his own arm off for.

As Mickey Whelan also said this week: "I just think Dublin have far more better players. That's what it comes down to. If we perform to our best, and they perform to their best, we will win."

We see no compelling reason to disagree.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/9, Draw 16/1, Donegal 7/1

VERDICT: Dublin


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