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'We must up it for Dublin'

FOR reasons of excitement and theatre, Donegal's pulsating extra-time victory over Kildare may rank as this summer's most compelling football contest long after Sam Maguire's destination is decided.

But for one of the central protagonists -- Karl Lacey -- it made for less-than-comfortable viewing.

"It's funny," noted Lacey. "A lot of people were saying it's the best game they've ever seen. When you're playing, you're not even thinking about it.

"Watching it the next day, as a performance, I thought it was very disappointing. Just the level we played at, I thought it wasn't as good as the Ulster championship. It was exciting alright, but the number of mistakes and fumbles and that sort of thing ... it wasn't anywhere near good enough."

We say Lacey was a central protagonist but what we really mean was that he was the drama's most compelling character. The two-time All Star gave as fine a defensive exhibition as Croke Park has seen in many years yet the satisfaction of victory has given way to caution ahead of Sunday's trip back to Jones's Road to face Dublin.

"If we play like that against Dublin," Lacey asserts. "We're going to get hammered."

And while it might not have provided all the box office thrills of the Kildare/Donegal duel ... Dublin's subsequent victory over Tyrone is closer in terms of all-round performance to what Lacey wants from his own team this Sunday.


Describing Dublin's victory as "close to perfect", he notes, "they played outstanding and we would expect something similar against ourselves."

Still, you can't argue with results and in a season where Donegal have won Division 2, come through a preliminary round to claim a first Ulster title since 1992 and then take out genuine All-Ireland contenders in Kildare, you couldn't but be satisfied at how the season is panning out.

In particular, that Donegal defence of which Lacey is such a key member has managed to shut opposition attacks out to the tune of just under 10 points a game in their five championship matches to date.

If the season ended tomorrow, Lacey would be close to Footballer of the Year. But after soldiering in plenty of sieve-like Donegal defences, he is merely relieved not to be so squarely in the firing line.

"I've played in the Donegal defence for the past seven or eight years and you were getting hung out to dry," he admits. "There was so much space and just two of us marking two men inside.

"It's much better now. There is great communication between the players and it's working. We got a lot of criticism for it at the start of the year but it's paying off now and the results are coming."

Lacey has two All Stars but Sunday will be his first appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final and he recognises the levels of interest rising all around him.

"There is huge hype in the county," he says. "I can imagine what it would be like if we got to an All-Ireland final. We're 70 minutes away.

"Jim is trying to drill it into our heads to try and keep focused and don't let the hype get to us.

"It's something that Dublin have to their advantage.

"They're used to it at this stage. An All-Ireland is what they want. We would take a final at this stage.

"Dublin is probably a bit different.

"The boys could probably walk down Grafton Street and most people might not know them.

"You walk around here -- anywhere you go -- and there's a jersey or a flag. There's nowhere to hide.

"But it's all part of the game. Just keep the head down and forget about it when you get onto the training pitch."