Saturday 16 December 2017

Today's All-Ireland SFC semi-final preview

Damian Lawlor

DUBLIN v DONEGAL: Croke Park, 3.30, CROKE Park has sold-out for the first time this season as the 2011 championship braces itself for potentially its most explosive encounter.

Dublin ravaged Tyrone with insatiable hunger in their quarter-final clash but equally Donegal have "tackled like savages", as Bernard Brogan says, all year long.

Thus far, Jim McGuinness's men have been notoriously slow starters and must buck this trend to stay with the high-octane Dublin challenge.

They only managed two points in the first 20 minutes against Antrim, the same against Cavan and only clipped over one point in the first 25 minutes against Tyrone. They managed four in the first 20 against Derry but it took them 38 minutes to register three against Kildare.

If they start again like that today -- and if Dublin come out all guns blazing like they did against Tyrone -- it will be curtains.

To Donegal's credit, though, they haven't leaked much while they've struggled to settle into games. Indeed, Cavan's Michael Brennan remains the only player to score a goal against them in this campaign. Paddy McGrath is fit to start, Michael Hegarty and Michael Murphy are also finely tuned again while the other players fitted in a round of club games recently.

Unlike Donegal teams of recent vintage, this model refuses to press the panic button when scores don't come and instead work their way into games.

That should be Dublin's first target -- hit them with a flurry of early scores and make them come out to play. If the game drags on without Pat Gilroy's men gaining an early lead, not only will the Ulster side sit two extra men in their full-back line, they might even consider clogging it up further to inflict more frustration on their opponents.

Diarmuid Connolly was simply sublime against Tyrone from both left and right foot and should weigh in with another performance here after scoring seven points from play last time out.

And if Bernard Brogan is double-marked, will Alan Brogan make use of the extra space and maintain his superb form? They'll also need the unsung Paul Flynn to put in the hard yards up and down the wing, while their midfield should be capable of winning more than their fair share of breaking ball.

The Dublin players were back training two days after beating Tyrone and have trained hard since. They are exceptionally well-organised in defence, big and athletic around the middle with serious firepower up front (eight scorers v Tyrone), perhaps more than Donegal whose inside forward line didn't function against Kildare.

It should be a really tight affair. The statistics and scoring averages suggest this one could even be a draw

However, we think that Dublin have more artillery and have had enough time to plan for the blanket defence. Despite the magnificent work of McGuinness and company, we take the Dubs to scrape home by two points.

Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, C O'Sullivan; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan.

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, F McFlynn; A Thompson, K Lacey, K Cassidy; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; M McHugh, M Hegarty, R Bradley; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.

Verdict: Dublin

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