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'Strange game' and a huge Dublin win

LOTS of words have been used to describe the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Donegal - from outrageous (for all you football romantics) to fascinating (for all you tactical junkies) and everything in between.

Michael Darragh Macauley picks one phrase that, for all its diplomacy, encapsulates how it must have felt to be a Dublin player faced by Donegal's 14-man blanket. "A strange game," he recalls. But also, he later remarks, a "huge" win in their evolution.

"I suppose no-one had seen that kind of style of football before," the midfield powerhouse expands. "We were definitely taken aback at the time when we were playing against it, but it just took a lot of hard work from the lads to settle in to that style of football and try to break it down.

"We were very happy at the end to come out with a result that day. It definitely wasn't easy and I'm sure it won't be easy on Sunday," he says of this year's semi-final rematch.

It wasn't easy on the eye either, reflected in the snail-like scoreboard progression - one point apiece after 23 minutes, 0-4 to 0-2 for Donegal at the break, 0-6 to 0-3 after 51 minutes, before Pat Gilroy's men went on a mad scoring burst (five on the spin!) to advance on a 0-8 to 0-6 scoreline.

"Look, it was probably something different, it was something we hadn't seen as a team before and something a lot of folk looking on hadn't seen before," Macauley explains.

BATTLE

"It was something that had worked for Donegal all year long and we just managed to get over the line against them that day. So if something is working for you, stick with it. Who knows what's going to happen in this semi-final but it's going to be an interesting battle."

The Ballyboden clubman has strong Donegal connections, his late father Michael hailing from Lettermacaward - between Dungloe and Glenties.

"I wouldn't have a lot of family back there but I'd get the odd text from cousins, the odd bit of abuse. That's all part and parcel," he says.

Even though Dublin under Jim Gavin have always stressed the "concentrating on our own game" mantra, Macauley admits they have been getting in some 'A' v 'B' practice for Donegal's anticipated defensive set-up.

"Yeah, bits and pieces," he confirms. "You try all sorts when you're playing training games, with certain rules and stuff to bring on the team. You're obviously going to try every predicament in a training match."


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