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Gaelic: Dubs need to prepare for Donegal dogfight

FLOODLIGHTS, camera, action! It may have been a bleak autumn evening as the rain lashed down on Jones’ Road in almost biblical proportions last Saturday evening, but the fare that the Dublin footballers produced as they smashed their heads through the parapet to firmly lay down their All-Ireland credentials was enough to illuminate even the gloomiest of nights.

The attacking stats tell almost the full story. Nineteen scores from play, 13 from the inside line, with every starting forward (five of them by half-time) on the score sheet. The most glaring though is the margin of victory as the seven points that separated the sides all came from the boot of Diarmuid Connolly, a player who struggled to make any impact in his previous two Leinster championship appearances and who found himself substituted after only 31 minutes in the provincial final.

I won’t assume that Tyrone took Connolly for granted reckoning that if they shackled the Brogan brothers they were halfway to victory, but I don’t for one minute imagine that they believed the St Vincent’s man had the ability to lead them on a merry dance as he kicked scores for fun off both left and right foot. The faith that Pat Gilroy and his management team showed in Connolly was returned in spades, and having witnessed him first hand back in my time on the panel the question was never about his skill levels, but more on the mental aspect of his game, which he got spot on last weekend.

One of the most pleasing aspects of both his and his fellow forwards’ performance was that realising he was in form they continued to feed him the ball, ruthlessly exposing Tyrone’s inability to shackle him. EXPLOITED All over the field Mickey Harte’s troops had no answer to Dublin’s pace, power and freshness. From early on it was clear that the toil from their previous assaults on All-Ireland glory was evident in their legs as Dublin swept up field, delivering defence splitting passes to an attack that exploited every inch of space Tyrone afforded them.

In years gone, by Harte’s troops would have galloped back up the field, orchestrated a turnover and attacked en masse. What stuck out most about how this great team have possibly come to the end of the road in their current incarnation was the lack of movement for Brian McGuigan as he looked to play a quick ball from a free he won midway through the opening half. While Stephen O’Neill proved, following his introduction in the second half, that he still has the class and ability that earned him the Player of the Year accolade back in 2005, Seán Cavanagh hinted that time may well be up for some of the other stalwarts who engineered a hugely successful period in the county’s history and placed them up there as arguably the best side in the modern game. The Dublin management have made enhancements to the fundamentals of Tyrone’s successful gameplan, and while I have questioned aspects of this set-up before, they got almost every call right as they picked their team to attack Tyrone with a hunger and intensity that has rarely been seen from a Dublin team in recent years.

Barry Cahill slotted into the forwards with consummate ease, while Cian O’Sullivan’s devastating return to the back six offered an injection of pace in conjunction with an element of calmness that snuffed out the Tyrone attack before they ever got going. What impressed me most about Dublin’s defensive performance was that when Tyrone forced them to go man-to-man during the first half, not one of them was found wanting.


Individually they battled to protect their own patch and collectively they restricted the Red Hand attack to just two Mark Donnelly points from play during the entire opening 35 minutes. Arguably, the one man though whose enthusiasm drags the rest of the team with him is Michael Darragh Macauley. His work-rate is clearly infectious as those around him try to match his intensity levels. Absent due to injury against Wexford, it’s no coincidence that the performance levels that day were well below the standard the team generally sets when the Ballyboden St Enda’s man is in it.

While a huge amount went right for Dublin, there are a couple of areas that still need work if they hope to end the 16-year wait for an All-Ireland final appearance. The most obvious is the concession of frees, 35 last Saturday night, and while Joe McQuillan must have felt the wrath of Hill 16 on his neck for one or two dubious calls, in a closer contest 35 possessions for an opposing team could do untold damage. The biggest job of all though that lies in store for Gilroy and his team is shutting out the all the hype and zoning in on the next game.

Donegal will provide a completely different challenge in three weeks’ time, and while a repeat showing would surely be good enough to tee up an All-Ireland final spot, the reality is that Dublin need to prepare for a dogfight where the result will far outweigh any performance.