Saturday 25 January 2020

McBrearty's absence could stretch Donegal too far

Paddy McBrearty. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Paddy McBrearty. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

By the time Paddy McBrearty limped out of the Ulster final early in the second half, he had scored 19 points - 13 from play - in the championship.

He did well in the Allianz League too, albeit on a Donegal team that was relegated to Division 2. Indeed, if an All Stars team were chosen in April, he would have been aboard after some excellent performances, topped by the game with Dublin when he scored four points from play.

He will watch this evening's game from the stands, a stroke of bad luck that has probably wrecked Donegal's chances of becoming the first team to beat Dublin in the championship since they themselves did it in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.

Even with McBrearty playing, it would have been very difficult for Donegal to deliver the first surprise of the 'Super 8s' against opposition that enjoyed the luxury of being able to time their fitness regime to peak from now on.

Dublin were always going to retain the Leinster title while playing well within themselves, whereas Donegal were primed for action by mid-May.

And while Cavan didn't offer the expected resistance, Donegal had to be ready fitness-wise. And so they were, as they flashed out the first real evidence that Declan Bonner had expanded their approach.

They maintained a high-tempo game all through the Ulster championship, where they scored an average of 2-19 in four games. Granted the quality of opposition wasn't especially high - as underlined by results in the qualifiers - but it was still better than what Dublin encountered in Leinster.

That hasn't been a problem in the past for Dublin, who have picked up the pace quite easily after comfortable runs through Leinster. They will do it again, too, and while Donegal are resolute enough to test them, it's difficult to see them restrict the Dublin attack for the full 70 minutes.

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If Dublin are to have an issue in their pursuit of the four-in-a-row, it's likely to be in defence where the better sides will find openings. Galway created quite a lot in the League final in April but were let down by a poor conversion rate.

Still, it showed that there's profit to be had if runners take on the Dublin defence, something Donegal will prioritise this evening. That's another reason why McBrearty's absence is such a loss. Dublin's toughest test in the quarter-final over the past five years came against Donegal in 2016 when they won by five points, a margin that flattered Gavin's men.

It is quite probable that Dublin will make a winning start to the 'Super 8s', but it's vital for Donegal to do well enough to boost rather than damage confidence ahead of their games against Roscommon and Tyrone. They are well capable of achieving that.

Irish Independent

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