When Donegal and Dublin last locked horns it was back at the end last August in the All-Ireland semi-final with the Metropolitian emerging the winners by two points thanks to a late surge.
The final score ended up Dublin 0-8 and Donegal 0-6, with arch critic of Donegal’s style Pat Spillane labelling it Shi’ite football, while his colleague in the RTE Sunday Game studio Colm O’Rourke was not enamoured either with the Donegal game plan.
After the game Donegal manager Jim McGuinness, while defending his team’s ultra defensive tactics, admitted that Dublin were a bit ahead of Donegal and that it was a matter of going away and working on narrowing gap over the winter months.
This Saturday afternoon Donegal and Dublin collide for the first time since that day and go toe to toe again back in Croke Park, throw in 7.15 pm. The game shares the billing with the Allianz National Hurling Division League meeting of Dublin and Tipperary which throws in at 5 pm.
The game presents McGuinness and his team with the first opportunity to find out if they have made up ground on the Dubs who went on to claim All-Ireland honours.
Donegal’s form going into Saturday evening’s showdown can be best described as up and down with opening defeats to Down and Laois, followed with an impressive home win over Cork only to be followed by a humiliating defeat away to Kerry, the weekend before last.
And in true Donegal fashion, they bounced back last Sunday to put Mayo to the sword in Ballyshannon with a power packed second half performance. It was by far and away their best of the season so far and right up with the best 35 minutes produced during last summer’s roller coaster championship run.
“It was great to win. It was great to pick up the two points but best and most encouraging of all was the performance. It was far from perfect but we created a lot of chances and scored 17 points and at the same time gave very little away at the back,” McGuinness told the Democrat.
“Overall it was an encouraging performance and things are taking shape and it is a matter of building on that now in our last two games.
“Saturday’s game is a big game for the boys and there is always something special about playing in Croke Park and the fact that they are playing Dublin, who are the All-Ireland champions, has an extra appeal about it.
“It is great preparation for the championship and the couple of league points would not go astray either. I know a lot of people will be talking up the game because of last summer and the All-Ireland semi-final, but we will be approaching it just like any other game hoping to put in a good performance and to build on last weekend’s win over Mayo.”
Like Donegal, Dublin’s form in 2012 so far has been patchy to say the least of it and they too have mixed swashbuckling with well below par with last Sunday’s defeat to Down in Newry, the lowest point so far.
They have four points from their four games and no more than Donegal will be anxious to get a few more points on the league table, though they along with Mayo have one game less played. Their second round game in Castlebar had to be abandoned at half-time due to a blanket of fog covering McHale Park.
They suffered defeats to Kerry in the opening round and last Sunday’s surprise defeat to Down.
In between the had five points to spare over Laois and gave Armagh something of a football lesson as they ran out 16 point winners.
Due to injury a number of players are taking breaks. Pat Gilroy has fielded weakened sides in all four games and the Dublin boss is planning this week to be without Eoghan O’Gara and Bernard Brogan, both on the injured list.
Yet despite the absentees All-Ireland winners Stephen Cluxton, Michael Fitzsimmons, Ross O’Carroll, Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Ger Brennan, Michael Dara Macauley, Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly have featured in most of their games. And they are all expected to be on board again for Saturday’s showdown with Donegal.
Jim McGuinness was still concerned when talking to the Democrat on Tuesday evening ahead of training over All-Star full-back Neil McGee. McGee, who missed last Sunday’s win over Mayo with a bug, was still very doubtful and had also developed an ear infection.
Donegal officials were yesterday still awaiting clarification on the referee’s report on Rory Kavanagh’s red card picked up before half-time in last Sunday’s game. And until that clarification is received no decision will be made on whether or not to appeal the sending off. Under new disciplinary rules the midfieler is facing an one match ban.
“Rory will be a huge loss against Dublin on Saturday evening. He is great shape and very fit and is the type of player that we could do with in the wide open spaces of Croke Park. But we are going to have to wait until we receive the clarification from Croke Park before we can do anything in relation to an appeal,” explained McGuinnness.
The Donegal boss will also be hoping that U-21s Patrick McBrearty, Marty O’Reilly and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy come through last night’s Ulster U-21 championship meeting against Tyrone without picking up any knocks.
Donegal only trained once this week, on Tuesday night, and are travelling to Dublin on Friday evening where they will overnight before Saturday’s game.