This All-Ireland is Dubs' destiny
CADBURY'S ALL-IRELAND U21 FC FINAL
DUBLIN v DONEGAL
(Breffni Park, Tonight, 7.0, Live TG4)
AND so Dublin's long and winding road brings them to Breffni Park for tonight's All-Ireland U21 football final and, in the context of their earlier performances during the Leinster championship, who would have thought it?
Certainly not Louth, or most of the people who were present at the provincial opener between the two counties. Fewer again, probably, then witnessed the semi-final tussle with Carlow in Dr Cullen Park.
Yet, by the Leinster final, an encouraging trend had been established. One which should serve Jim Gavin's men well tonight.
Against Louth in the first round they were steeped to win after a late assertion of character and flurry of scores in Dundalk. In Carlow -- ditto -- an extra-time victory straight out of the drama society and one about which the natives on Barrowside are still mightily restless.
Then, in the Leinster final in Parnell Park against Westmeath, Ciarán Dorney's brilliant late goal gave the scoreline the sort of gloss it scarcely deserved, particularly in the context of the earlier parts of the second half.
Notably, in all those games, though, when Dublin were faced with adversity (often, it must be said, of their own making), they resorted to some inner lining of confidence and character to win the matches.
It's often said about the Dublin senior side that, due to their imperial reign as Leinster champions and the ritual thrashings they have dished out therein, the team are scarcely prepared for the challenge of a footballing superpower in the All-Ireland series.
Luckily, the U21s don't suffer from the same affliction. The art of winning tight, topsy-turvy games is one that Gavin and his management team have instilled in the most refreshing fashion.
Nothing, it seems, fazes this group of players. Moreover, when a compartment of the unit isn't functioning as management would want or a change of tack is required in a particular area, Gavin has serious options. Men who can -- and repeatedly have -- made a difference.
So in summation, they might not be the most loved team in Dublin (see the pathetic support in both the Leinster final and All-Ireland semi), but they're certainly an entertaining, swashbuckling bunch.
However Gavin has instilled it, they have attained the art of crafting key scores at vital junctures in matches. On top of that, nerves are not an issue.
How else do you explain the pattern of their All-Ireland semi-final? True, two early, possibly fortunate, goals gave them a cushion on top of which they sat for the rest of the match, but just as they had gone a man down following Ted Furman's sending off, Roscommon had closed the gap to just three and Donie Shine took a totalitarian view of the midfield exchanges, then Dublin exploded. It was, without doubt, the best football they have played in this competition.
Breaking quickly from deep is Dublin's forté and they completely overran the Rossies, who were left slightly shell-shocked by it all.
Dublin's wing backs -- Jonny Cooper and Nicky Devereux -- have been immense thus far in the competition. Both have conceded very little to their markers but have arguably contributed more to attack than defence.
In attack, the pace of Gary Sweeney and Ciarán Dorney caused Roscommon and others untold problems.
Notably though, Gavin has added two players to the forward line -- Robert McCarthy and Mark Coughlan -- but for very different reasons.
McCarthy's three-point salvo from the bench made him an automatic choice for selection tonight, whereas Coughlan is likely to add his physical presence to an area where Dublin have struggled: midfield.
It's been a recurring feature of Dublin this year that they have failed to achieve parity in the battle for aerial supremacy, and Coughlan's ability to break ball should at least augment their artillery.
Donegal, though, are a tougher team than any Dublin have faced this year.
It goes without saying that Rory O'Carroll's battle with Michael Murphy is absolutely vital, and if the Kilmacud Crokes man keeps the Young Football of the Year to a couple of points and no easy balls won then Dublin will be halfway home.
True, they can't match Donegal for physicality and will need to keep close tracks on Leo McAloone around the middle, but Gavin has proved himself capable of constructing both a team and a gameplan which works around the holes in his players' abilities.
It would be the culmination of three years hard work on Gavin's part if Dublin were to win an All-Ireland tonight but, while they're going to be up against it at different junctures, winning just seems to be Dublin's destiny.
ODDS: Dublin 8/11, Draw 7/1, Donegal 11/8