Dublin juggernaut still has Donegal to surpass

Ulster champions were made to work against Armagh but there is plenty yet to play for this summer

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly scores a goal past Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan during the All-Ireland football quarter-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly scores a goal past Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan during the All-Ireland football quarter-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.


Now the hype truly begins for Dublin. Nothing about their performance in Croke Park on Saturday night revealed anything that we didn’t know already, except we now get the All-Ireland semi-final that a lot of people have been eagerly anticipating, a classic clash with the style and substance of Donegal.

I still think this is Dublin’s championship to lose. For Jim Gavin the main challenge over the next three weeks is managing the hype, ensuring his players stay away from any distractions and sustain the level of intensity at training. The fact there is still such competition for places will help ensure that. Although it’s a long enough gap, and unfortunately they weren’t properly tested by a brave, but ultimately, tired Monaghan.

The last 20 minutes were irrelevant, really, and I wouldn’t blame any of the supporters for leaving early, to beat the traffic. Once Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan found the net in the first half – both clinically finished – it was game over.

In fairness to Monaghan they stood up manfully, yet their only strategy really was to back the defence, hoping to hold out while trying to score on the counter attack.

Conor McManus ended up isolated, had very little support, and there’s no denying the extra-time against Kildare the previous Saturday was still in their legs. Physically, they were always going to struggle to survive 70 minutes against Dublin.

Dublin rushed

That only held out for so long, but in end I didn’t feel they really asked any questions of Dublin. At the same time Dublin rushed into a lot of their play, and as a result weren’t as accurate as usual. But there always a lot more intense, and the likes of Philly McMahon and Jonny Cooper were allowed run at Monaghan.

With that, Dublin have so many options coming forward it hardly mattered they were so wasteful. They kept their patience, kept varying their game, and it was only a matter of time before they broke through.

Monaghan, in contrast, were trying to slow the game down – a hopeless cause against Dublin. The All-Ireland champions have so many options up front. Of course this is nothing we didn’t know: to have any chance of beating this Dublin team you need to be exceptionally fit. They’re skill level, and accuracy in passing – from hand and feet – is also very impressive, and that’s doubles the challenge for the opposition.

Of course there is the strength of their bench, too, the likes of Cormac Costello, Dean Rock and Paul Mannion coming in on Saturday night. It must be getting a little frustrating for these players not getting a start, despite all the talk of the collective, and at times there were a little selfish. I certainly think Costello would have done his case for a starting place a favour had he passed off to Brogan with his goal chance, instead of going for it himself.

Donegal, in contrast, were stretched to their absolute limit against Armagh, exactly what Jim McGuinness would have wanted. There’s no doubt their experience, and patience, got them over the line against Armagh, although without Michael Murphy, and Paddy McBrearty at the end, they would have been in trouble. The pity is they need to play Murphy so deep, when we call know the damage he can do on the inside forward line.

More importantly it seems Donegal have their 2012 belief back, and mental toughness too, if not yet the intensity. They also looked like a team who knew what they were doing, in contrast to Armagh, who just don’t have that same understanding yet.

Armagh certainly put up a fight, but it was almost as if they were overly conscious of winning the physical battle, to a man, instead of relying more on their skill. They’re discipline let down them a little as well, and there’s no excuse for that. I don’t know if that have some sort of inferiority complex, but they should be more focused on their football, and not starting little melees and that sort of thing.

Different challenge

Now, this Dublin juggernaut will present a completely different challenge, and there’s no way Donegal can be as wasteful again with their scoring chances. If I was Jim McGuinness, I’d also be sending out an SOS to Mark McHugh, because I think they lack the one or two additional options which could make a difference against Dublin. At the same time they will want to get more out of Colm McFadden, who wasn’t himself on Saturday night.

All of which makes for a very intriguing battle against Dublin. How Donegal set up will be crucial, but what they showed against Armagh is that they mean business again, particularly in the third quarter of that game, when they really should have put Armagh away.

What Donegal will need to do in the semi-final is take Dublin out of the comfort zone for as long as possible, keep them within a couple of points until the last 10 minutes, and that will make for a fascinating battle. All easier said than done, of course.

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