Monday 27 January 2020

Ciáran Whelan: Dublin's speed vital for win

Eoghan O'Gara, in action during the Leinster Final
Eoghan O'Gara, in action during the Leinster Final

After a five-day training camp in Johnstown House last week, I am sure the ink is now dry on Donegal’s game-plan to topple the All-Ireland champions. Preparing a plan is one thing but implementing it is the real challenge.

Jimmy McGuinness has been very vocal in the build-up to this game and has portrayed a very confident approach in the ability of his players to deliver his plan. So what can we expect from Donegal and have they got the capability to deal with the blue wave?

I would suspect that McGuinness and Co will have laid out a detailed plan for each quarter of this encounter in great detail and I expect Donegal will change their tactical approach depending on how the game is progressing.

We all know well that Donegal have the track record of implementing the most effective defensive system in the modern game. Coming up against the most potent forward line in the country, we can expect that Donegal will set up with possibly up to 15 men behind the ball is the first quarter of this game.

Whilst this tactic caught Dublin by surprise in 2011 forcing them to take poor shot options under pressure, they will be better prepared this time around.

Whilst Pat Gilroy was conservative in 2011, Jim Gavin will commit extra bodies forward with the likes of James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Michael Daragh Macauley running at their defence and supporting their forwards.

Read more: Donegal's negativity also contributes to entertainment 

Mc Guinness’ defensive objective will be to ensure his team closes down the space from 30 metres back and ensure Dublin are prevented from getting goals. The detail in the plan will be to identify three or four Dublin players that will be man-marked by Donegal defenders with the remaining players tasked with protecting the scoring zone.

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Whilst I think it will be unlikely over 70 minutes, let’s just assume that Donegal get their defensive plan spot on and Dublin fail to break them down and they manage to prevent Dublin scoring goals and upset the composure of the forwards. If that was the case, you would expect Dublin to still get at least 15 or 16 points which would be approximately half of their scoring average to date this year.

So then best case scenario that has to be Donegal’s own scoring target so how will they achieve that tally? Setting up defensively is fine but against Dublin it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Read more: Goliath of game will ruthlessly crush any Donegal David 

Is Donegal’s counter-attacking game effective enough to get the necessary scores? Can they afford to sit back and invite Dublin onto them by conceding kickouts and possession in the middle?

Let’s deal with the latter first. McGuinness spoke during the week about the effect of conceding the Dublin kickout and how it badly affected Monaghan. I expect part of his plan at some stage of the game will be to press the Stephen Cluxton’s kickout and try cut off the Dublin supply.

So how will this be possible if they have so many bodies back in their own defence?

Whilst they may try, I simply do not believe they can do this effectively and still manage to retreat into a defensive position if they lose possession.

This is where I suspect the cracks will appear and Dublin will take advantage with the pace and power they have right throughout the pitch. The Dublin

game-plan has also evolved this year and the middle eight against Monaghan were very effective is breaking down any counter-attack from Monaghan.


As much as the Dublin full-back line has been very solid in recent games, they can expect a much bigger test this weekend. If Donegal are to reach the required scoring target of 16 or 17 points, they will need goals. This is where Michael Murphy’s role will come into the equation.

Read more: Victors' minds turn to final 

McGuinness took some time out last week to do a questions and answers session in a Dublin hotel. Strange choice but these are things that have to be done when Roman Abramovich is not picking up the tab! Paul Durcan and Michael Murphy also sat at the top table whilst many supporters got their opportunity to ask random questions.

One question from the floor was half meant in jest but Durcan may have dropped his guard with his answer. When asked had he ever clashed with the man beside him (Michael Murphy), he confirmed that he had only recently clashed with him during the recent days in at their training camp.

Funny that, I never had Durcan down as a midfielder, where Murphy has played most this campaign. So it’s fair to assume that Murphy had spent the recent days knocking around the edge of the square preparing for Sunday’s game. If Donegal are to get goals, Murphy will be crucial to their cause and they will anticipate that Dublin may leave their full-back line exposed to a long direct ball from distance.

It is the one area where Jim Gavin cannot afford to take any chances and whilst Murphy may spend some periods out the field, Dublin must plan for a bombardment of high ball as part of the McGuinness game-plan at some stage.

Murphy’s role in the team is paramount to any chance of a Donegal success. He is their leader and their go-to man.

Donegal’s primary objective will be to be in this game going into the last quarter. If all the aforementioned tactics go to plan, they will hope they can bring Dublin into territory where they have not been all year and hope they lose their composure.

If Donegal reach the 50-minute mark and they have matched Dublin on the scoring front they will believe that they can win a tight contest.

A fundamental part of their plan in tight games is manufacturing free kicks within the scoring zone knowing that Murphy can kick scores anywhere from 55 metres in during the closing quarter. It’s an element of their game that is effective aand can go unnoticed by referees when they themselves begin to tire in the closing stages of the games.

Read more: Dublin's second wave of attack 

From a Dublin perspective they need to stay disciplined, be patient, be willing to adapt throughout the game when Donegal change their approach. The nature of Donegal’s tactic will all be based around preventing the Dubs from performing and upsetting any rhythm in their play.

Jim Gavin cannot afford to be complacent in his approach and his team selection will need to be thought out in detail. The use of his bench is more important than ever before and I expect he will hold back some artillery to unleash on the Donegal defence when their legs are beginning to tire.

To conclude, I do not believe this Donegal team is operating at the same level as it was two years ago and despite having outlined all the factors that must go right for them, I fail to see how they can outscore this Dublin team. If McGuinness does pull it off, it will rank as one of the greatest tactical victories in many years.

We await what will be an intriguing contest but it will be Dublin that will be preparing for the third weekend in September. Dublin to win with a bit to spare.

The Herald

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