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Saturday 21 October 2017

Dubs hit two-year landmark

Donegal have their own proud record to defend at Fortress Ballybofey, so something is about to give

Dublin forward Dean Rock will have a crucial role to play against Donegal tomorrow. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin forward Dean Rock will have a crucial role to play against Donegal tomorrow. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

You've got to wonder, as the Dublin players sit alone with their private pre-match thoughts in MacCumhaill Park's away dressing-room tomorrow, will they think about the landmark that looms.

The latest one.

If the Allianz League and Leinster and All-Ireland kingpins can avoid defeat in Ballybofey, it means they will have completed two full years without losing a single game in league or championship.

Incredible in this modern age. Incredible in any.

GAA journalists accustomed to waxing lyrical about this current run now have all the relevant 'save recall' details just a cursor press away. Last defeat? Kerry in Killarney, by 0-15 to 1-10, on March 1, 2015.

Avoid a similar fate tomorrow and this seemingly never-ending streak will pass the two-year mark on Wednesday, with old foes Mayo next up as the potential Croke Park party-poopers next Saturday night.

Faltering

Our own belief, at the outset of this campaign, was that Dublin wouldn't negotiate all seven NFL rounds without faltering.

There were a variety of reasons: their late return to training; the fixture list (with four road trips including the most obvious pitfall of Tralee next month); the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, a fifth straight Division 1 title might not be top of the priority list for Jim Gavin or his players this season.

And then, on the hour mark, they found themselves 1-7 to 0-5 adrift of Tyrone on a miserable night in Croker.

Gavin's post-match synopsis went to the heart of Dublin's resilience and why they haven't lost (O'Byrne Cup appetisers apart) for 31 games.

"We were five points down, missed a penalty and they could have said, 'To hell with this, it's a cold windy night in Dublin and I'd prefer to be somewhere else'. But no, they showed great mental character once again, great mental resolve, particularly the players who came in ­during the game," the manager concluded.

That mental toughness was also to be found the last time Dublin visited Ballybofey in 2013. It was Gavin's first campaign; the county hadn't won the league for 20 years. They were four points down after 50 minutes - and still two behind entering injury-time.

Enter Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion: parity secured.

For all the recurring plaudits about Dublin's attacking ethos and style of play, it is their bull-headed hatred of losing that has made this 24-month adventure possible.

There have been plenty of sporadic performances, even a few downright poor ones. But the white towel has never been thrown. Their most recent stalemate was a case in point.

Bewildered

For long stretches they were bothered and bewildered by Tyrone's defensive web ... but ultimately they found a way.

It was no coincidence, either, that the men who delivered those crucial late points were Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Fenton and Dean Rock. Three current All Stars. Three pillars of this unbeaten run.

Tomorrow they face a familiar challenge in Donegal and yet a different one. Rory Gallagher is building a new team because he had to: the veterans of 2012 have been retiring, one by one. Neil Gallagher became the latest wounded hero to join the exodus this week; the big midfielder was, more than once, a thorn in Dublin's side.

There is plenty of young talent in this emerging Donegal, players who have excelled at underage, but will they have the defensive smarts to replicate Tyrone a fortnight ago and frustrate the Dubs? Doubtful ... in losing to Kerry and then edging Roscommon, they have scored a healthy 1-33 but conceded 4-26.

They must also cope without Paddy McBrearty tomorrow: advantage Dublin.

The hosts have their own proud record to protect - 15 league and championship games unbeaten in Ballybofey. If a marathon run is to end tomorrow, that could be the one.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Donegal 11/4, Draw 15/2, Dublin 2/5

VERDICT: Dublin

Allianz FL Div 1: DONEGAL v DUBLIN (BALLYBOFEY, TOMORROW 2.0, LIVE TG4)

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