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Monday 24 September 2018

Dublin in box seat ... but no 'Done' deal

This is the first real test of the holders' four-in-a-row fibre

POWERFUL: Dublin forward Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
POWERFUL: Dublin forward Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

We have reached that familiar watershed juncture for the greatest trophy hoarders in the business. Familiar but different.

Dublin are well used to facing into an All-Ireland quarter-final that looks tricky on paper, assailed not by self-doubt but questions about the quality of road-testing during their latest Leinster cruise.

What happens when the speed ratchets up? Do they still have the hunger to chase every loose ball? The focus to stay concentrated on today's game, not the next? The ambition to simply carry on winning?

The answer, invariably, has been yes.

But now those questions will be asked over three different weekends in two different venues - two Croke Park dates against Donegal and Roscommon sandwiching next Saturday's trek to Omagh.

In theory, the 'Super 8s' should be a positive for Jim Gavin on several levels.

Firstly, it provides a last-eight safety net that didn't previously exist. Secondly, it offers a series of potentially competitive outings that may well be needed to coax out the intensity levels never required against Wicklow, Longford or Laois.

Beast

Starting with Donegal this evening: based on everything we have seen thus far from the reinvigorated champions of Ulster, Dublin will have to unleash the competitive beast to ensure victory.

That said, we have been here before where dogged and seemingly finely-tuned Ulster opponents were meant to make the Dubs sweat and instead raised only a token gesture of resistance.

Think Monaghan in 2014 and '17, plus Tyrone in last year's semi-final. Now, that may be partly due to underdogs lacking the bravery to engage the champions in a meaningful fashion, or it may reflect the sheer difficulty of trying to contain their multi-pronged threat.

BATTLE: Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton and Donegal’s Michael Murphy contest a high delivery during the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Pics: Sportsfile
BATTLE: Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton and Donegal’s Michael Murphy contest a high delivery during the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Pics: Sportsfile

Donegal have been the one Ulster outfit to stretch and confuse and even mither the Dubs - infamously in 2011 (when they lost narrowly), again in 2014 (that ambush was the last time Dublin have lost a championship match) and to a lesser extent in 2016 (when Ryan McHugh's goal and Diarmuid Connolly's double-yellow had the hosts sweating for a while).

Unlike two years ago, Donegal carry a more potent threat primarily because new boss Declan Bonner has released the ultra-defensive handbrake. They have no shortage of attacking talent, be it from orthodox forwards or explosive counter-attackers from defence, most notably McHugh and the revelatory Eoghan Bán Gallagher.

When the sides met last February, Donegal were within a point of Dublin before the hosts relocated top gear in the home straight to win by five. Crucially, though, Paddy McBrearty played that night and landed four outrageously good, near-identical points from play in the second half - all off his trusty left, from the left wing.

And McBrearty won't be playing tonight or for the rest of the year. Just as Jack McCaffrey is revving into form after his cruciate comeback, the Donegal assassin is starting out on his long road to recovery.

Monumental

Such has been Donegal's spread of scorers this summer, they haven't been over-reliant on McBrearty's finishing - or even Michael Murphy for his still-monumental influence and leadership.

But the former's loss is still a critical factor, even more so given some tribulations in the Dublin full-back line when Laois were making a game of it.

There are several other reasons, mind you, why Dublin should prevail. Starting with Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny: where they have led this quest for four-in-a-row immortality, the rest have followed ...

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Dublin 1/7 Draw 14/1 Donegal 6/1

VERDICT: Dublin

  • ALL-IRELAND SFC Q-FINAL GROUP 2, DUBLIN v DONEGAL (Croke Park, Tonight 7.0, live RTÉ 2)

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