DONEGAL v DERRY
(Clones, Tonight 7.0, Live Sky Sports)
WE thought we would never again witness a blanket defence quite like the 14-man version unleashed by Jim McGuinness on Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final. But then Derry came to Croke Park last spring and attempted something similar.
Both matches ended in narrow victory for Dublin, but only after a chorus of boos had echoed around GAA headquarters.
Donegal, then in the formative stages of the McGuinness project, came very close to squeezing the life out of Dublin, falling away late on to lose by 0-8 to 0-6.
This year's league debacle between the Dubs and Derry had uncanny echoes - the hosts winning by 0-8 to 0-4, but only after four late points.
By then, almost four years on from Donegal's revolutionary attempt, this type of blanket defence no longer carried the same tactical intrigue. It was more inclined to leave you in a numbed stupor.
Tonight, it's fair to surmise, we are not about to witness what used to be called a typical game of Gaelic football - 15-on-15, each player trying to win his individual battle in the overall pursuit of collective supremacy.
Yes, we'll have several important man-for-man cameos, and a few outbreaks of individual genius ... but only within the confines of a game dominated by defensive structure and tactics. Will it be a hard watch? Quite likely.
And yet ... to pigeon-hole Donegal as high kings of uber-defence is to ignore the evidence of their past two matches.
Yes, the same suffocating set-up favoured by McGuinness remains a hallmark under Rory Gallagher; but they've fine-tuned as an attacking force and the initial SFC portents augur well for another sustained assault on Sam.
Coming from the 'Group of Death' side of Ulster, to overcome Tyrone by three points and Armagh (away) by nine reads like a serious statement of intent.
But it was the manner of this achievement that really caught the eye. Instead of the third-quarter surge patented by McGuinness, Gallagher's Donegal have gone for the early jugular (0-4 up inside nine minutes against Tyrone, 1-3 clear inside 12 against Armagh). Quick aerial bombardment, especially on turnover ball, has been a recurring feature.
Moreover, with supremely gifted individuals such as Michael Murphy, now the playmaking conductor, and Paddy McBrearty, evolving into one of the game's most deadly predators, Donegal won't be far away this summer.
As for tonight, Derry won't get nearly close enough.
ODDS: Donegal 1/5, Draw 10/1, Derry 5/1
ulster sfc semi-final