IT’S time for Dublin to "push on" and reach an All-Ireland senior football final for the first time in 16 years, according to manager Pat Gilroy.
Speaking ahead of this Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Donegal, the Sky Blue boss steered well clear of suggesting it would be a fatal setback for his team, highlighting the relative youth of his defence especially. But after four semi-final defeats in the past decade, there’s a general acceptance in the capital that falling short for the fifth time would be a hugely demoralising blow for the more senior players especially.
“I think for us as a group, it would be a big setback,” Gilroy admitted at a DCU press conference today where he announced an unchanged line-up.
“We left last year and we all felt a little deflated by the fact that we probably left the game behind us, one that we could have won. “Fair play to Cork, they took advantage on the day – but this year we do need to push on as a group. It’s a very young team, though; this Dublin team hasn’t been through a lot. “If you look at our back line, there’s an average age of 22 so you could hardly say it’s make-orbreak for those guys.
“It is a young team, and I don’t think their futures are going to be completely defined by whatever happens on Sunday or for the rest of the year. “But for us as a group, it is important that we push on because we did make some progress last year and we need to do that again this year.” Gilroy believes his Dublin charges are in a “much better place” coming into Sunday’s clash, compared to 12 months ago against Cork. But he warned that they cannot afford to drop the intensity displayed against Tyrone three weeks ago – especially given the difficulties likely to be posed in trying to break down Donegal’s blanket defence. “I think the way teams perform on the day collectively is the most important thing. The system and the way Donegal are playing is going to be as important as their individual players, because that is what’s brought them this far,” he reflected.
“They’ve done very well all year, and if we drop our performance at all we’ll be in big trouble this weekend.” He added: “Maybe in the past, Dublin had more stronger individual players but the opposition’s system maybe beat us. “I think the way people play is very important and how the unit performs, so I don’t think it will be down to individuals.” However, the Dublin boss is confident that his players won’t be fazed by the prospect of facing a massed Donegal rearguard. “I think we have (faced it) over the last two years - a lot of teams play with a strong defensive system. Laois, Kildare, Mayo all probably play to a large degree with that same approach, but they probably are not doing it as well as Donegal have done it. And all do different variations of it.
“A lot of teams are bringing a lot of men back into their defence. It’s a challenge we’ve faced before, and you just have to be patient and composed to really go up against it and be confident in what you’re doing.”
Gilroy rejected suggestions that Dublin play a very similar game, adding: “Every team is bringing some people back when you lose possession, but I think we play it very differently to Donegal. “I think it will be very hard for either team to get scores on Sunday, but you’d expect that come All-Ireland semi-final,” he concluded. There were no rabbits pulled from the hat at DCU this morning as Gilroy announced an unchanged line-up from the team that blitzed Tyrone at the lasteight stage.
In reality, it could be no other way following the finest display delivered by a Dublin team during the All-Ireland series since the inception of the qualifiers. Ahead of the quarter-final, Dublin went with a pre-match ruse of naming Eamon Fennell at midfield and Eoghan O’Gara (then coming back from a broken wrist) in the full-forward line … but Michael Darragh Macauley and Barry Cahill both started the game and made important contributions. So it is no surprise to see the dynamic Macauley retained in the engine-room and likewise with Cahill in his new forward brief – albeit this time the versatile St Brigid’s clubman is named on the ‘40’ with Alan Brogan switching inside to corner-forward. Gilroy described it as a “logical enough” decision to persist with the same 15, given they had no injury problems either.
DUBLIN (SF v Donegal): S Cluxton; C O’Sullivan, Rory O’Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen (capt); A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs: To be announced.