Saturday 18 November 2017

Donegal the only green and gold on radar of Gilroy's charges

Keith Barr

IT'S painfully predictable listening to suggestions this week that Dublin are already looking beyond Sunday's game against Donegal and towards a 'dream' final clash with Kerry.

It is absolute rubbish of course, the same kind of tripe usually thrown around when Dublin are involved in a big game. It's a cliche that Dubliners overestimate their side's ability. We don't, get over it.

Worse than this sneer, of course, is the other feeble argument put around recently (one not backed up by any evidence) that says Dublin are employing cynical tactics to win.

In the wake of a quarter-final victory over Tyrone marked by the quality of Dublin's kick-passing and tackling, I was really surprised to see this accusation made by a couple of people who should know a lot better.

Dublin haven't reached a decider for 16 years, while Donegal's famine is three years longer. And while the Ulster champions might have struggled over the past decade in a particularly competitive provincial environment, the Dubs have been heavyweights in Leinster only.

As I'm blue in the face saying, if you excuse the pun, you'd want to be insane to take anything for granted in this town. Sunday is no exception. The only green and gold in Dublin's sights is that of Donegal. While their paths haven't crossed very often, Dublin and Donegal share a number of similarities, in particular the fact that they are managed by young, ambitious managers who have changed the way their sides play completely.

Both outfits are stronger as a result. With decent runs in the league, both sides are extremely fit, have plenty of natural footballers and are growing in confidence.

Getting players to buy into a new system can take time, but Jim McGuinness has worked wonders with Donegal in a very short period. Their refusal to fold against Kildare really roused their supporters, but, more importantly, it strengthened the squad's belief in the way they play.

As well as the epic battle with the Lilywhites, Donegal's display against Tyrone in Clones, where they were being overrun in the first half, showed how patient they have become under McGuinness' system.

Patience and composure are really important traits for any team, but particularly one that defends in numbers and counter-attacks. No matter how bad things get, you must bide your time, keep plugging away and keep closing down the opposition.

Look at Mayo last week. While they were always on the back foot, they reacted to Kerry's dominance early in the second half by going man-to-man and they paid a heavy price.

Had the Gooch -- class act that he is -- fashioned that goal chance against Tyrone at the height of their powers, I suspect he would have taken his point as the three defenders would have immediately descended on him.

And while we're on the point of Kerry greatness, let's not ignore their ability to defend in numbers and control the tempo of a game.

Back in 2009, a number of Kerry players were known to be a little p***ed off with Jack O'Connor's tactics of men tracking back against weaker opposition. He asked them to consider the bigger picture; they went on to win the All-Ireland. You'll often hear pundits arguing the merits of whether a team should jettison defensive play at some point and throw caution to the wind, often basing their case on the fact that it's ultimately the same to lose by a point as it is by 10.

I must admit, I always loved 'caution to the wind' football, but it flies in the face of why you set up a defensive system in the first place; i.e. to make it bloody hard for your opponents and to lessen the risk of getting tanked.

The most difficult bit is balancing your attacking strategy. Ironically, it was a bit of cavalier football from Kevin Cassidy that earned Donegal a place in the semi-final in the end, but the manner of their victory was more important as it will have cemented faith in McGuinness' strategy.

Similarly, Dublin's victory over Tyrone probably sealed belief in Pat Gilroy's approach once and for all.

Dublin showed in the All-Ireland quarter-final that good kick-passing is just as important as good tackling and the performances of Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen have added greatly to their approach in this regard.

I don't suspect Donegal will change their style in any way, but I would imagine they will target Dublin's kick-outs specifically to try and stop them getting their kick-passing game going.

It will be interesting also to see if Donegal leave Karl Lacey on Alan Brogan, and how these two candidates for Player of the Year measure up could be one of the more intriguing battles on Sunday. One thing we can be sure of is that these two hugely committed, physical outfits will go toe-to-toe in a bid to end particularly frustrating periods in their histories.

On that front, I think Dublin's recent experience gives them an edge.

PS: With a lot of reminiscing about 1992 going on in the lead-up to the game, a joint celebration of both counties will take place in Cassidy's of Camden St over the weekend, a famous GAA establishment run by former Dublin footballer Fran Ryder and his Donegal partner Jamesie O'Donnell.

Minor battle will show who can take next step

SUNDAY is a big date in the Dublin GAA calendar, with the minor footballers bidding to match their hurling counterparts by reaching the final against Tipp -- a title we haven't won since 1984.

Of course, I'm hoping my old team-mate Dessie Farrell can steer them home against Galway, but they are well aware of the massive challenge ahead.

All the talk recently has been of a GAA "revolution" in Dublin. However, with an U-21 football title already in the bag, the Galway minor footballers are bidding to keep their own drive for four All-Irelands alive on Sunday as their U-21 and minor hurlers have already booked their respective final dates with Dublin.

They say revolutions don't just happen, there's usually a steady movement towards success. Interesting to see which county will take the next step.

Irish Independent

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