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Monday 18 December 2017

donegal's power play can prevail

ULSTER SFC FINALDONEGAL v MONAGHANTomorrowClones 4.0Live RTÉ2

YOU'RE a Dublin (or maybe a Meath) footballer who has just lifted the Delaney Cup. You're physically, mentally, and perhaps even emotionally drained by events in Croke Park. Our quick-fix solution? Tune in the telly to events in St Tiernarch's Park.

Donegal/Monaghan promises to be all the things you associate with Ulster champion-ship football: intense beyond belief, dripping with aggression and big hits, tactically intriguing, and with myriad sub-plots stemming from these counties' recent history.

Enough reason for a Dublin or Meath footballer to tune in? Sure.

But here's another: chances are, they'll be running into one of these teams any day soon.

Without boring you with the strictures imposed on this year's 
All-Ireland quarter-final draw, suffice to say the Leinster champions are liable to end up facing the beaten Ulster finalists, presuming the latter survive their round four qualifier. Moreover, if the Leinster runners-up negotiate their qualifier, they will face the Ulster champions at the 
last-eight stage.

Question is, who up north will be bursting through the front door?

A couple of months ago, in the immediate wake of watching Monaghan eclipse a lifeless Donegal in the league Division Two final, you would have fancied the Farney once they could survive Ulster's 'Group of Death' equivalent - the tougher side of the draw.

This they have achieved in mostly impressive fashion. They were patently the better side against Tyrone, only to be nearly suckered by a late retreat into their defensive shell.

They didn't have the same luck against Armagh, whose late scoring burst forced a replay, but day two was won convincingly by the holders.

By then, Donegal had long since qualified for their fourth consecutive Ulster final on Jim McGuinness's watch. And they had done so by reprising the old trait that made them such a compelling force of nature in their All-Ireland campaign of 2012.

Away to Derry, trailing by two, they cut loose for 12 minutes after half-time, scoring an unanswered 1-5. Against Antrim in the semi-final, they went from level at the break (0-7 apiece) to nine-point leaders (2-12 to 0-9) at the end of the third quarter. Game over.

Blunted

The third-quarter power surge was Donegal's weapon-of-choice in 2012. You wondered if they still had it in the arsenal, when measuring their blunted league final display against Monaghan's boundless energy ... but the early-summer auguries are promising.

And they've been aided by the vibrant contribution of newcomers such as midfielder Odhrán Mac Niallais (man of the match against Antrim) 
and Darach O'Connor (scorer of a wonder goal in the same game), along with the renaissance of Christy Toye.

Monaghan, though, with their magnificently spiky defence and the deadly menace of Conor McManus, will give them loads of it.

Don't forget, when it mattered last summer, they blew Donegal away.

But now they face a different beast ...

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Donegal 6/5, Draw 15/2, Monaghan 10/11

VERDICT: Donegal

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