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Saturday 21 July 2018

Donegal test is exactly what Dubs need in push for four

BLUE BONUS: The return of Jack McCaffrey is a huge boost for Dublin’s All-Ireland hopes. Pic: Sportsfile
BLUE BONUS: The return of Jack McCaffrey is a huge boost for Dublin’s All-Ireland hopes. Pic: Sportsfile

I think it's fair to say that this weekend cannot come quick enough in terms of the sense of excitement that heralds the start of the Super 8s.

There is a palpable feeling of anticipation and for genuine football supporters, the next three weekends promise a feast of football involving the best players and the best teams in the country.

That may sound slightly elitist but it's hardly by coincidence that we have arrived at this stage. The cream has risen to the top, with the possible exception of Mayo.

For Dublin, the Super 8s have arrived at exactly the right time, offering them the competitive challenge they have not experienced to date.

Tomorrow night will be a big test for them but it's a test that they need in honing their intensity, something that was missing to a degree during their march through Leinster.

Without being too critical, there was a sense of complacency in how they performed in those facile wins against Wicklow, Longford and Laois and I felt that for the large part, they were quite casual in their collective displays.

That casual approach manifested itself in the number of presentable goal chances that were spurned and that is not something that you would expect from the current panel.

Of course, that is understandable as the result in all three of those matches was never in doubt.

You certainly cannot say that about tomorrow night's encounter at Croke Park.

Donegal are a team that have impressed me hugely all year and they blitzed all opponents on their way to winning this year's Ulster Championship.

They certainly played with a greater intensity than anything Dublin showed to date and while they still have the defensive DNA in place from the Jim McGuinness reign, they have gradually introduced a greater cutting edge to their forward play under Declan Bonner.

NEEDS WATCHING: Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Ryan McHugh are very dangerous counter-attackers and can be expected to cause Dublin problems in tomorrow night’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 clash at Croke Park Pics: Sportsfile
NEEDS WATCHING: Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Ryan McHugh are very dangerous counter-attackers and can be expected to cause Dublin problems in tomorrow night’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 clash at Croke Park Pics: Sportsfile

The momentum of their middle eight is central to this approach with the strong running of lads like Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Ryan McHugh reaping its rewards.

Manager Bonner has assimilated a nice blend of youth and experience and their strong runners could well enjoy a fruitful evening in the wide environs of Croke Park.

Havoc

However, the loss through injury of Paddy McBrearty cannot be underestimated as he is without argument, one of the best players in the country and his lines of running can cause havoc for defences and offer a great focal point for the Donegal attack.

Despite his absence, Donegal need to be brave and not look to contain Dublin and the best way for them to succeed is to look to ask questions of the Dubs full-back line and also use their powerful runners in greater numbers.

It's hard to know where Dublin are at present but they will certainly look to be more clinical than they have been up to now.

We know from previous years that they have it in them to improve and the next three weeks will be brilliant for them in terms of their expected preparation for an All-Ireland SFC semi-final.

Of course, there could well be a blip along the road to the last-four and that may just occur tomorrow night.

However, a couple of key players have returned to fitness over the past few weeks, with Jack McCaffrey and Cian O'Sullivan sure to strengthen Dublin's options ,and the team's experience and the strength in depth that it currently enjoys should be sufficient to see them prevail by three points or so.

On Sunday afternoon, we should have a clearer idea of where both Kerry and Galway lie in terms of their All-Ireland ambitions with Kingdom's wonderful performance in the Munster final slightly tainted by Cork's meek surrender to Tyrone last Saturday evening.

I still believe that the currency from that emphatic display is valid and there is very little more that Kerry could have done on the night.

I believe that Galway need to make a statement after their league exploits and of course, their form in big matches at Croke Park is an anomaly that they need to address.

They still possess a hugely dangerous inside-forward line and the only question mark hanging over Kerry is their full-back line.

Conceding two goals in the manner that they did against such an anaemic Cork team would concern me slightly and I'm sure Damien Comer will be licking his lips in anticipation at the thought of facing what is a weakness in Éamonn Fitzmaurice's team.

However, Kerry do look like genuine contenders in all other areas and I feel they will pull through by five to six points.

Dublin will have a keen eye on how their Group 2 opponents Roscommon and Tyrone fare tomorrow afternoon and I feel Kevin McStay is blessed with one of the best forward lines in the country.

They are all really good footballers, many with low centres of gravity that make them difficult to curtail and they showed against Galway in the Connacht final that if you give them enough possession, they have the ability to cause trouble to the most secure of defences.

Of course, they are not quite as impressive at the opposite end of the field and their defenders take huge gambles during games that will be punished at this exalted level.

Expansive

Tyrone have been slightly more expansive this year, coming through the qualifiers with a fair degree of ease, apart from against Meath, but they still look too reliant on a running game for my liking.

Roscommon could well enjoy a purple patch where scores will come freely but I don't feel those spells will be prolonged enough to earn them the win and Tyrone's greater consistency should see them home.

Finally, we turn our attention to Kildare's clash with Monaghan and I genuinely feel that this game could go either way and possibly end up as a draw.

The big question is has too much been made of Kildare's progress to this stage?

Yes, they were very effective against Fermanagh but you would have to be sceptical about the quality of the beaten Ulster finalists.

They certainly have momentum at their backs and that could be vitally important against a Monaghan team that can lose concentration at key times.

In some respects, Monaghan are coming in under the radar but they were solid enough against Laois last week and had effectively won the game by half-time.

They would want a greater return on the goal chances they created but they have a strong structure which may be enough to see them prevail, albeit narrowly.

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