We strive to beat all teams: Dub Fitz
Fitzsimons says playing his own game is the 'big challenge'
IT wasn't too long ago that the occasion of Dublin and Donegal meeting in a league match was accepted as the collision of competing and opposed footballing philosophies.
Dublin; the swashbuckling, front-footed, myopically attack-minded entertainers of Gaelic football versus the asphyxiating, double-stitched blanket of the game's great defenders from the North West.
Now? There's a grey area, much of it caused by 2014, a change in Donegal management and a slight but noticable shift in Dublin's modus operandi.
"A lot of teams try and replicate what they do or set up similarly enough but they move it fairly well, very quickly," says Dublin defender, Mick Fitzsimons, identifying a fairly obvious trait of Saturday's opponents, albeit one that gets mostly overlooked in the national obsession with their form without the ball.
"So it's always a bit more of a challenge probably playing someone like them, as opposed to a team that just sets up a blanket without practising it.
"They know how to play quick football. And it's good football to watch as well. They can play in a few different ways."
Which is a skill Dublin themselves have accrued these past two years.
How much concession Jim Gavin would make to redesign Dublin's defence wasn't entirely clear during last year's league, having hinted occasionally at a total rebuild.
Yet they went on to win an All-Ireland in style, even though the lessons gleaned from their 2014 loss to Donegal and their almost-defeat to Mayo in last year's drawn semi-final were in abundance.
"It can be portrayed that way," Fitzsimons says of Dublin's refusal to simply ape Donegal, as many have - mostly when playing them, a la Kerry in the 2014 final.
"But most teams play similar enough. I know there's a few changes and certain teams play a bit more defensive.
"We probably haven't gone ultra-defensive or ultra-conservative," he adds.
"But I'd say Kerry, Mayo and Donegal, at times, have played similar football.
"I wouldn't be giving us too much of a pat on the back."
There is, however, a greater satisfaction in decoding a team like Donegal.
"That's the challenge," Fitzsimons confirms.
"And what we're looking to do is play good football despite what other teams might set up in front of us, as in if a team are more defensive still, it's a good challenge for us to try and break it down."
As an inside defender, Fitzsimons' role can be the one most notably affected by a stylistic deviation from an opposition.
"If a team plays six forwards you might be one-on-one," the Cuala man points out, "but if a team is playing one forward, naturally enough, you'll have a bit of support.
"It all depends on how opposition teams approach us. There isn't a huge difference.
"Most teams will try to get you a bit of support; no team wants their full-back line to be exposed."
Whatever about tactical doctrines, there exists a sparky enough rivalry between Donegal and Dublin since the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final but possibly going back a year further, to the 2010 All-Ireland under-21 final.
Mostly, Dublin have had the better of the exchanges but if last September exorcised a few ghosts, they had been haunted all season to that point by mentions of 2014.
"Any team you lose to you want to make amends. That was a big loss," Fitzsimons admits, though he stopped well shy of attaching a greater prominence to Donegal in the Dublin psyche over any other All-Ireland rival.
"Any team in Division One you want to beat and any team you may meet later in championship you want to beat and you don't want to go in on a loss," he adds.
"There's nothing hugely special. They always have been great games playing against them and you enjoy it because you know it will be tough and you know you will be up against someone who is good and there's not a lot of change given.
"But yeah," the Cuala defender added, "there definitely is more familiarity and a bit more form there and history.
"So it probably is a bit more physical and a bit more competitive."