Wednesday 21 March 2018

Eugene McGee: Throwing caution to wind key to Dubs triumph in abomination of a game

Eugene MCgee

Dublin footballers are in their first All-Ireland final since 1995 not because they played wonderful football. Nor are they there because they they have a brilliant midfield pairing, a terrific full-back line, high-scoring forwards or even world-class free-takers.

No, all of these components of the game of Gaelic football, which are associated with a winning team, were conspicuous by their absence.

What rightly won this debacle of a game for Dublin was that their players passed a test of character which they had failed every year since 2002.

Time and again since the turn of the Millennium, Dublin have blown quarter-finals and semi-finals that they could, and in several cases should, have won, but this time they made the mental breakthrough that has eluded them for so long.

In all these games they failed to close the deal; yesterday's, curiously, was the hardest to actually win. So the Dublin football camp can feel satisfied this morning because getting into this final was a major monkey off their backs.

And when this abomination of a game of Gaelic football is lost in the mists of GAA memory, which should be about lunchtime today, that is the only thing that will be remembered -- that Dublin are in the All-Ireland final, where they will play Kerry -- agus sin scéal Eileen!

The importance of Dublin winning this game cannot be over-emphasised in the context of their recent history. I will be surprised if the players are even forced to watch the video of this affair, because it is irrelevant to the upcoming final. (And, indeed to every game of Gaelic football I have watched at this level.)

Of course, we all knew how Donegal were going to play, and they were perfectly entitled to do as they did.

Their sole aim was to win the game and they made a very brave effort to do so. Despite the over-the-top abuse of everything related to Donegal, they were entitled to set their stall out as their manager Jim McGuinness decided. There is no rule in the GAA book that outlaws the ghastly style of play used by Donegal, so let them at it.

What will concern the Dublin management most of all is the complete capitulation, mentally and physically, of nearly all their players in the face of a style of Donegal play that had been clearly signposted in advance.

Hardly any Dublin player had the presence of mind to think through what Donegal were expertly implementing.

The comparison that struck me, as half-time approached and Dublin trailed by 0-4 to 0-2, was of a rabbit frozen in the glare of a car headlight.

No Dublin player seemed capable of behaving in their normal fashion. They seemed petrified by the manner in which Donegal practically owned possession through short passing, were able to 'horse' players off the ball with consummate ease and were even able to take the ball out of the hands of Dublin forwards regularly.

It seemed surreal at times and it was hard to believe that this Dublin team had been coached and motivated to the highest levels all year. (Or so we were led to believe.)

Dublin were lucky to only trail by two at the break, because Michael Murphy did not produce the goods on this occasion. He and others wasted four or five frees which, in the context of the low scoring rate, would probably have put the result out of reach for the Dubs at half-time.

A few things came to Dublin's rescue in the second half, most of which were not pre-planned.

There was a succession of bad misses from Donegal in the opening 15 minutes after the break, which prevented the Ulster champions from going more than two ahead and eased the pressure on Dublin.

Karl Lacey was forced off through injury, a crucial moment in the game as he is arguably Donegal's best player.


Then, entering the final quarter, Dublin gained from Diarmuid Connolly's harsh sending off, because that left the remaining players with no choice other than to go for bust regardless of the consequences -- in other words, throw caution to the wind as opposed to the frightened, fearful approach they had adopted until that point.

And the final and most crucial factor which ensured Dublin's late revival was that many Donegal players were not able to maintain their brutal hard-working regime. Mistakes crept into their ball-handling and the timing of their close passing deteriorated.

This gave Dublin, for the first time in the game, a chance to draw their breath and start playing the sort of methodical football that was their norm in previous games.

With Donegal unable to score for the final 30 minutes of the game -- a truly astonishing statistic, which will surely lead to a revision of tactics for next season -- Dublin were left with a simple enough target for victory with five unanswered points.

But only two points from play in 75 minutes of football is a shocking indictment for Dublin.

At the end of the day, the character displayed by a handful of players, notably substitute Kevin McManamon, who took on Donegal defenders -- the first time an attacker had done this -- was the deciding of the game and an element which may yet be crucial in the future development of this team.

Others can gripe forever about the pathetic imitation of Gaelic football we saw yesterday.

All I will say here is that the GAA world should not be surprised that the wonderful game has come to this stage at the highest level, because the clear signs have been there for over a decade, all over the country, albeit with some honourable exceptions.

I attended the first official GAA coaching course in Gormanston College in the 60s under great people like Jim McKeever, Joe Lennon, Frankie Byrne and Eamon Young and a revolution began that time.

It would be sad if the legacy of that coaching breakthrough was to provide us with nothing better than the abuse of the great game of football that had to be endured yesterday. Tell us all it is not so!

Irish Independent

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