Tuesday 20 March 2018

Eoin Liston: Donegal lack X-factor to get through wall of steel

Armagh assistant manager Kieran McGeeney
Armagh assistant manager Kieran McGeeney
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

WE CAN only hope that fatigue caught up with Monaghan. If that wasn't the case, then the rest of us have no chance of living with this Dublin team.

The Farney men made it difficult for 20 minutes, but once the Dubs put the jets on they just absolutely blew them away. It turned into a training match for them after their two goals.

I don't mind saying that Dublin are a joy to behold. Their pace, power and movement simply overwhelms their opponents. But what they maybe don't get enough credit for is their organisation. Jim Gavin has a strong hand to play there is no doubt, but tactically he gets it spot on.

I've heard it said that Dublin's kick-out strategy is simplistic in its execution and maybe that is the case. But surely, if it was so easy, teams would stop them getting so much primary possession. Nobody has so far been able to stop Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs to the extent of upsetting the Dubs' momentum.


When a team with the attacking power of the champions wins 75pc of the restarts, the result is pretty much a forgone conclusion.

Just look at the team that started on Saturday and you can see how good they are by the players who weren't starting! Jack McCaffrey, Ger Brennan, Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Mannion were all crucial to their All-Ireland march last year.

Brennan and Kilkenny are out with long-term injuries, while McCaffrey and Mannion just can't get into the team. It hasn't knocked anything out of them.

Then you see players like Cormac Costello and Dean Rock coming into the game and it's simply mind-blowing the talent they have.

To be fair to Monaghan, I would have to question the first of Dublin's two goals. Diarmuid Connolly seemed to take a lot of steps before finishing. If you watch the replay, Connolly covers an awful lot of ground without hopping or soloing.

It was actually a referee who pointed it out to me and I noted a few instances when I watched the game back yesterday morning.

But look, in no way do I want to criticise a team who are doing so much for the game. We should be grateful that we are witnessing such a machine operating at the peak of their powers.

The talk has been that they may perish on the rock that is Donegal's defensive system. Based on Saturday, I don't see Jim McGuinness' men having enough to turn Dublin over. There were, of course, elements of the win over Armagh that were impressive. When they needed leaders, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty stood up and kicked the vital scores under pressure.

Armagh as expected made it difficult, and had momentum coming into it after their run through the qualifiers. They are a united squad of players and they were never going to be a pushover.

But Donegal weren't going to be bullied and did superbly well from a discipline perspective.

Their tackling was excellent and at the end, when Armagh were going in search of an equaliser, they closed down the areas in front of goal and only presented a long-range opportunity from a free that was never likely to be converted.

It wasn't pretty to watch but it was akin to a game of chess and in that respect it was fascinating to see the two teams so defensive and pretty much daring the other to come out and have a go.

Kieran McGeeney has clearly wielded a massive influence on this Armagh side. What they must ensure they do is get themselves back to Division 1 of the National League. They've some fine young players and they will have a say in the destination of the Ulster title next summer if they continue their cycle of development.

With regard to Donegal, I do think they lack the X-factor that made them All-Ireland champions.

Two years ago, they were obviously very defensive but they broke at 100 miles per hour from deep, with men bursting off the shoulder at pace. On Saturday, there was very little evidence of that, with Karl Lacey in particular very quiet in comparison to the marauding force he once was.

Perhaps it was the type of game plan they employed yesterday and Jim McGuinness has proven himself to be a master tactician. We may yet see a different animal when they do lock horns with the Dubs.

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