Friday 24 November 2017

Martin Breheny: Dubs ready to pass real test after flying through Leinster 'mocks'

Cian O'Sullivan and his Dublin team-mates after their team photograph prior to the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Laois and Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian O'Sullivan and his Dublin team-mates after their team photograph prior to the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Laois and Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

For reasons related to Dublin's tendency to quite often name teams on Friday nights that undergo changes before lining out on either the following day or Sunday, it's unsurprising that Jim Gavin's enthusiastic declaration of James McCarthy's full fitness on Wednesday morning attracted some scepticism.

When it comes to injury reports, the usual pattern among managers is to talk down the chances of those who have recovered and to talk up the prospects of those who haven't.

Whether or not McCarthy plays - and doubts will persist one way or the other in the public mind up to around 5.45 - is important.

Without him, Dublin would be down three of last year's defenders, with Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey having opted out of the panel.

Despite the latter pair's impressive credentials, Dublin have maintained business as usual but could they cope with losing a third defender, especially one as good as McCarthy?

It's one of many intriguing questions surrounding a contest where Dublin are bidding to win for the 20th time in 22 championship outings under Gavin.

The only defeat was, of course, against Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final when, after a powerful start, Dublin were hit for three goals, eventually losing by six points.

The memory of that game remains fresh in Dublin and Donegal minds, the former convinced they were caught by a series of sucker punches, the latter believing that the result was the product of expert planning and precise execution.

There has been no evidence to support that in either of the last two league games between the counties, with Dublin winning quite comfortably, but Donegal still believe that if they get their systems right they are best equipped of all to disrupt Gavin's men.

Donegal's failure to win either of the last two Ulster Championships - failing narrowly in the finals to Monaghan last year and to Tyrone this year - has fed into the theory that while they remain a dogged hard-to-beat force, they are losing altitude.

Their performance against Cork last Saturday questioned that line but then how good was the opposition? Still, it was the ideal response by Donegal after the disappointment of the Ulster final defeat.

It was certainly helpful from a confidence viewpoint, with Donegal hitting 0-21, their highest number of scores in a championship game since 2003 (2-19 v Tipperary in a qualifier).

There's a perception of Donegal as an ageing team and while they do have quite a few players over the age of 30, the balance of the squad is good. In fact, the average age of the starting team last Saturday was 26.8 years.

The intriguing question is whether Donegal have the structural flexibility required to beat Dublin. They were too clever and battle-hardened for Cork but looked much more predictable against Tyrone, scoring a mere 0-11.

A year earlier, they scored 0-10 against Monaghan in the Ulster final, followed by 0-11 against Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Donegal have no chance of upsetting Dublin if they attempt to turn this into a dour defensive battle.

Of course they need to be security-conscious but their 2014 experience teaches them that they have the capacity to unsettle Dublin with a more expansive game.

Dublin supporters are expressing concern over whether yet another untested run through Leinster might leave the team ill-prepared for such a big test.

Hard evidence suggests otherwise as Dublin haven't lost a quarter-final since 2009 and have won the last two by a combined total of 25 points.

Gavin knows how to calibrate a season that does not feature searching tests in June-July so the untested theory is no longer valid.

In fact, it will leave Dublin fresh and focused against opposition that has had a very tough Ulster campaign, followed by another game a week ago.

It all points to Dublin booking a semi-final place for a seventh successive year, albeit after being well-tested.

Irish Independent

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