Donegal or Dublin, that is the question? Has there ever been a game that has caught the imagination of the GAA public more than this one?
The last time I saw so much hype around any game was the hurling final of a few years ago where Tipperary stopped Kilkenny in their bid for five in-a-row.
There is one certain thing I can tell you now. All that will be written or said in the next few days or the past week will count for nothing when the ball is thrown in next Sunday. That will not make one bit of difference because it will come down to the usual things that decide most games.
What team will want it most; who will adapt quicker to the conditions and the tactics of the opposition and what players regardless of how things are going for themselves and the team will step up to the mark.
It is no secret that Donegal will pull as many players behind the ball to frustrate the Dubs. They will close them down at every opportunity and not let them get up a head ofsteam because if they do get the wind in their sails, the Dubs are going to be extremely hard to stop.
It’s important to realise that Dublin have the better players at this minute in time. They have a better squad to pick from after a lot of success at under age level in the last few years.
Jim and the rest of the Donegal management team are realistic enough to know that so it would be wise to go to Croker knowing that the way Donegal played against Monaghan and Armagh will not be good enough to beat Dublin.
Indeed with the way many people have been talking in the past couple of weeks it would save a lot of bother for everyone if they just give the Sam Maguire to Brogan and Co. now but that’s not the way sport works and there is not a team or a player in the country that will not relish a chance to play in a game that they’re not given a chance in hell of winning and have nothing to lose. Happy days.
I can remember the same thing happening a good few years ago now.
A few years ago I would have said that could not happen but most teams are now a bit cuter when it comes to saying too much or being arrogant in any way.
So I don’t expect we will catch them out that way. Dublin will have trained just as much for this game as we have. A lot of people are suggesting that the Dubs will have worked on breaking down the blanket defence but if you look at the way the Dubs play when they lose the ball they all go back into a defensive mode; they all track back but because they break at such great speed and have always two or three men available in the forward line it doesn’t look that defensive but they will close us down just as much.
A lot has been talked about the All-Ireland semi-final of 2011 where Dublin just got over the line and many in Donegal believed we left a title behind us but be sure of one thing both sides are totally different now.
Dublin are stronger and have more belief in what they are doing. Donegal, too, are stronger because of the success of 2012. The players believe more now than ever.
The Kerry-Dublin semi-final of last year showed up one thing that many believe is a weakness in the Dubs game. Kerry didn’t give them possession of the ball from the kick out and closed them high up the field thus not allowing them to build up any momentum. Kerry also played three up front with plenty of pace and when they broke they kicked the ball long and for long periods of time during that game Dublin struggled.
Donegal will have to do the same but with one difference. Kerry did not take enough of the chances they created. Donegal will have to take all their chances.
In this year’s campaign the McGee brothers have been solid; they have kept allcomers quiet and have even managed at times to go forward themselves but Sunday will be different. Most teams might have one or two scoring forwards. Dublin, on the other hand, have at least four who could easily be classed as scoring forwards. Connolly, the Brogan brothers and O’Gara all have the capacity to open our defence and along with McMenamin and Flynn it’s a formidable forward line.
Our back six will have to play out of their skins. Midfield has become more for runners now. The high fielding is now long gone with placed and short kick outs. Neil Gallagher has been one of the stars of the summer for me; he has been consistent in every game, he works well with Michael Murphy in and around the middle. He will have to be at his best again.
Most people will know that our defence is our strongest line. We pile players back to shut down the space and give very little away but in order to win we will have to be able to get men forward to give the likes of Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty every chance.
I don’t believe Michael Murphy’s game will change much, moving in to the full-forward line when we need it most. But if we are to win this one we need to frustrate the hell out of them and every man that takes the field in green and gold will have to be at their best.
The Donegal minors have a bit of the same story. They are up against the odds as well. Dublin came through the Leinster championship with the same ease as teams in the past couple of years. They have physically a big strong team with three extremely accurate forwards in the full-forward line.
They looked good in their win over Cork in the quarter-final but like the senior game it will be all down to the day.
Donegal minors under Declan Bonner have advanced in the way they play the game; they are not opened for goals and have a number of players who I have no doubt will be in the senior squad very soon but Sunday’s game will be a huge test.
One disappointing aspect for the minors will be the amount of injuries after the club minor championship games last week. I was surprised that the games went ahead considering that if the seniors want a game off it’s no problem. Also last year club teams could get games called off at this level for one reason or another. It’s a long line of county boards failing to give the same support for our underage managers as we do for the seniors. This is something that needs to change if we are to compete with the Dublins of this country.
All that can be asked of both teams is that they give their best, they leave nothing behind and have no regrets when they step off Croke Park come Sunday evening.
Best of luck to all. Tir Chonaill abu.