Wednesday 17 January 2018

Paul Curran: Dublin are weakened but Donegal tactics could play right into their hands

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Donegal manager Rory Gallagher during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 4B match between Donegal and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 4B match between Donegal and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

For the first time this year, the football championship picture is clear and with just six teams still in the running, the margin for error has now evaporated.

Donegal were patient against Cork on Saturday and stuck to the game plan right to the end.

It was like looking at them a few years ago when they originally brought this new brand of football to the scene, completely taking everyone by surprise. The game now seems to be part of their DNA, but they have had to develop other areas in order to remain competitive.

The trouble with the 2011/12 model is that it took incredible fitness levels and an almost super-human ability to be disciplined in their tackling. It wasn’t a game that I enjoyed watching but from a player’s point of view there was a lot to admire about the way each team member stuck to the task.

After winning the All-Ireland, the intensity levels dropped off and some of their players reached an age that made it impossible to operate at the levels they were at a few years ago.

That said, they still have a very talented group of players and now have the games under their belt which will make them a very tough proposition this coming Saturday.

Their opponents, of course, will be Dublin, who will bring a lot more to the party than Cork did last Saturday, so apart from the game against Tyrone in the Ulster final, this is their biggest test since last year’s defeat to Mayo at the quarter-final stage.

Dublin have not had a run out for a few weeks and have not had a serious test to date, but that isn’t the fault of the management or the players. The Leinster Championship has been a one-team competition for over a decade now and it hasn’t been a major issue for Jim Gavin or his players.

The attitude to games has always been the same, no matter who the opposition happens to be, and that mind-set has enabled them to prepare without getting too hung up on what the other team is like or what division they are in.

While the process is always the same and the results have always been mostly positive, the squad this year is weaker than it was at the same time last season. There are very few successful teams who could cope with the loss of three of their best players from one season to the next.

Dublin have not only lost three All-Stars out of the team but all three are missing from defence. That loss weakens the back line, no matter how you dress it up and it will be interesting to see just how they cope as the standard of opposition gets better.

The loss of Jack McCaffrey, Rory O’Carroll and James McCarthy cannot be overstated, although there is positive news about the fitness of McCarthy. To see him togging out at the weekend would be a massive boost. 

The fact that they are coming up against Donegal might work in their favour, if Donegal stick to their game plan by playing a mainly defensive type of game. They might just have to, as any space afforded to the Dublin forwards will end in scores.

If Dublin are somewhat weaker at the back, that cannot be said of the forward line. The competition for starting places is at an all-time high and if we get a performance from them in front of goal, the result will look after itself. With no love lost between these teams, it should be a highly competitive contest. The Dublin players will remember the last time the two teams met in the championship two years ago.

On that occasion Dublin looked comfortable in the early stages of the game and were getting through the Donegal defence with relative ease. They will remember the two glorious goal chances they spurned which would have certainly put the game to bed and they will remember what happened next.

Rory Gallagher will be reminding his players this week about what is possible and Jim Gavin will be focused on the process and be telling his players that patience is the key ingredient.

I think there will be a massive crowd at Croker for this one and I believe that they will see a very disciplined and highly-motivated Dublin team. I think this game will have its ups and downs and its twists and turns, but I think Dublin will get through it because of their superior quality, particularly up front.

A win for Dublin would set up another clash with Kerry, who took a very long time to get into their stride in yesterday’s quarter-final against Clare. 

One could argue that they never really clicked but Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be delighted that they are exactly where they planned to be ever since the league final defeat to Dublin.

I still think they have plenty of problems, but they are Kerry and they will now totally focus on the next game which may well define their season. When the draw was made last year, most people felt it would be Kerry against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi, but the champs need to take care of business next weekend first.

Mention must also be made of Tipp’s sensational win over Galway in their quarter-final.

The Munster men did not seem overawed by playing in the last eight at Croke Park. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as Liam Kearns’ men made sure their fairytale journey continues thanks to a composed display against Galway.

Tipp didn’t merely beat the Tribesman, they took them apart to achieve something remarkable – reaching their first All-Ireland semi since 1935. The story of the championship so far.

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