Monday 11 December 2017

Donegal ghosts banished by Blues

Dubs earn redemption with third All-Ireland in just five years after shocking end to last season

Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Dublin manager Jim Gavin

If only so they can stop being reminded of the Donegal loss in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, yesterday's result had obvious therapeutic qualities for those Dublin players who suffered it.

"Look, there was a lot of hurt over last year," acknowledged James McCarthy afterwards.

"A lot of stuff said about us.

"A lot of people questioned our character.

"A lot of slurry thrown at us, I thought. People calling us cowards and chokers and bottlers.

"There's a lot of men in there with a lot of medals.

"As much as you try and block it out, it still creeps through and you hear it.

"It annoyed me. And it annoyed a lot of men in that changing room. But I think we gave the answer in the last couple of weeks."

Yesterday's performance, and its necessarily gritty stylings, was surely the evidence of lessons learned.

"Obviously after last year, we were caught out defensively," McCarthy admitted.

"They did us for three goals.

"And maybe during the year we were playing too cagey, if you like. We're still trying to hold our defence but I think just after the Mayo game, we said 'look, we're going to go for it and not have regrets about it'.

"Put them on the back foot a bit, but obviously not forsake our defensive duties, but drive forward if we could."

In his acceptance speech, Stephen Cluxton revealed that the work for yesterday's All-Ireland win began two weeks after the Donegal loss.

It showed.

"I've always said the toughest time to lose is in the semi-final," Michael Darragh Macauley mused afterwards.

"We really felt that last year.

"We felt we were primed to win it last year and we were beaten by the better team in Donegal on the day.

"So we just had to be ready for anything this year. We had a few challenges thrown at us, particularly in the last two games against Mayo.


"We managed to overcome those obstacles so I'm proud."

For others, the day had different shapes of redemption.

Ciarán Kilkenny missed last year's Championship after going down to a season-ending knee injury in March.

Particularly in the All-Ireland series this year, it looked like he'd never been away.

A first All Star beckons.

"After doing a cruciate and coming back and winning an All-Ireland, it's an unbelievable experience," Kilkenny admitted.

"The first few months were tough. A real mental challenge.

"When you're in the gym on your own and with Kevin O'Brien there with me . . . so at the end of the day it's just so sweet winning with that group of lads. It's a special group, they're like your family in there.

"It's just an unbelievable feeling and we'll go and celebrate it now hopefully before the club championship kicks off."

Macauley called it "the most frustrating season", of his career but lived to tell the tale and claim a third medal.


"It was my most frustrating year on a Gaelic football pitch. But you have to take the highs with the lows," he shrugged after a year in which he started injured and finished as a sub, a most unnatural experience for him personally.

"With the injuries I had at the start of the year I seemed to be chasing my tail a bit and I felt I got there towards the end.

"But maybe it was just a little bit too late. I would have liked to have had a bigger part to play but that's the way it goes."

Jack McCaffrey was less hung up on Donegal.

"We took the lessons that we could very quickly from the Donegal game and then we parked it," he said.

"There was no bitterness or enduring disappointment. It was done, we were beaten by a better side on the day, set it aside and learn the lessons and move on.

"There's no point in not saying it - one of our goals every year is to get here and give it a good lash."

Declan Darcy had a more analytical perspective on last year's failure.

The Dublin selector witnessed the effect it had on team and management and helped reshape their modus operandi.

"I think in any sporting context, a loss can be better for you than a win," he mused.

"Kerry lost to us in 2013 and I think they went off and were hurting and it was maybe one of the reasons that drove them on to win it the following year.

"It is no harm to have that little bit of hurt to drive you. Winning isn't going to happen every day and how you react to defeat is crucial.

"This group of players has been magnificent all year, they've answered all the questions.

"I know everyone goes on about the Derry game in the league but even they did what they had to do without any bells and whistles.

"And I think that was the key to this year - we did what we had to do when it mattered most."

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