Sunday 19 January 2020

Donegal's defensive style won't stifle Dubs' attack

Dublin manager Jim Gavin believes Dublin's 'game intelligence' will help them cope with Donegal's forward threat in Sunday's football semi-final
Dublin manager Jim Gavin believes Dublin's 'game intelligence' will help them cope with Donegal's forward threat in Sunday's football semi-final

DUBLIN are insisting that they will not radically alter their playing style to try to outfox Donegal in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final.

When the teams met at this stage four years ago, it produced an infamously negative, low-scoring game that yielded just 14 points between them.

Donegal's ultra-defensive style was seen as the nadir of the modern game and they lost, by two points (0-6 to 0-8), a game many believed they might have won if they'd taken a more attacking approach.

Within a year the Ulster champions had perfected their revolutionary system with a speedy counter-attack that yielded them the All-Ireland title.

But with Dublin producing such startling scoring figures this summer - an average of 2-23 per game - there is a strong suspicion that the Ulster champions will revert to that uber-defensive shape again in a desperate effort to try to stop their steamroller attack.

Back in 2011, under Pat Gilroy's management, Dublin actually played 18 against 15 in their internal training matches to learn how to break down Donegal's suffocating defence.

But Gavin stressed yesterday that the defending champions have not dramatically reshaped their game in preparation for this eagerly anticipated rematch.

"Not at all, no," he insisted. "We will try and play our traditional, open style of football and play the way Dublin see the game to be played."

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Asked if he expects Donegal to 'park the bus' again, he said: "We can't dictate how they set themselves up.

"I acknowledge that Donegal have a very strong defensive system and are very difficult to break down, but most of our work over the past two weeks has been on how we're going to play our game.

Comfortable

"They have evolved their game from that (2011), and I would suggest they are more comfortable with it now, and players know where they need to set themselves up in that particular defensive pattern," he added.

Gavin did admit that Dublin will have "different strategies for different parts of the game," but emphasised that the defending champions will not be lured into abandoning their own free-flowing style.

He did admit that the tight defensive system they faced in their quarter-final against Monaghan has given them ideal preparation. Dublin's own defence, which conceded only 11 points last time out, is arguably the most underrated part of their game.

The 'full-court' press that saw them dominate Monaghan's kick-outs, and score 2-1 in a matter of minutes, was particularly effective and Gavin gave his players the credit for that.

"We have a standard sort of template that we use but that is modified, depending on the opposition that we play," he explained.

"The great thing about these Dublin players is they have a high level of game intelligence, (are) quite disciplined, and can move in and out of different strategies that we want them to play and that's been an impressive part of working with them."

He said Dublin's players are particularly adept at reading the opposition and adapting.

"They are a very intelligent group of players, and they see patterns of defensive play develop against them. They will talk about it on the field of play and do what is required to break a team down," he added.

There is no doubt that Dublin's management team has also given them the skills and play-book to adapt to every occasion. Gavin also stressed that their opponents are not all about defence, even though their scoring rates have dropped this summer.

"In attack they're very competent, have great patterns of movement," he observed.

"They play a traditional Donegal running style and are very comfortable with that but they can also use the long ball if required, and have some big threats up front and can punish teams if they are not marked tightly. It will be an intriguing game."

Irish Independent

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