Saturday 18 November 2017

Dublin must be team to beat

Donegal's Murphy declares Blues his favourites for Sam

JOE Brolly called it "the dream final". You couldn't really argue.

And given the obvious clash in styles, it would – should it transpire – be a tactical epic, with perhaps even some long-term consequences for the sport itself.

And though it might be some distance down a particularly hazardous road yet, it's probably still worth pointing out – just for posterity, like – that should both Dublin and Donegal do as expected and win their respective provincial finals, they could then not cross swords until September 22 and the All-Ireland final.

Which is why it was no surprise to hear Michael Murphy talking Dublin up at a promotional event yesterday.

"You would have to have them up as the lead bearers now this year," the Donegal captain said.

"In fairness to them, they have been the most consistent team of the year. Everybody has seen that.

"You look at them and they are just merging the attacking game with a fairly mean defensive game. They have both sides of the game ticked and without a doubt, they're the team to beat."



Pre-Pat Gilroy, Dublin had regularly looked like 'lead bearers,' or 'the team to beat' at this time of year, specialising in eating the band of wannabes ranked two through to 11 in Leinster without seasoning.

Which in itself was a feature of their game as aesthetically compelling as their inability to follow it up on the biggest days against the biggest teams was destructive and scarring.

When Gilroy timed the whole thing on the button in 2011 and Tyrone, Donegal and Kerry were taken out after a middling, if ultimately winning, sort of Leinster campaign, it was confidentially asserted that their previous penchant for the spectacular inside that provincial fiefdom had done them absolutely no good at all.

Yet if this current bunch can adequately handle the external forces of expectation which should go through the roof over the next fortnight, you get the feeling Dublin won't be left too exposed by their Leinster exploits.

"You would have thought it would have been fairly close," said Murphy, expressing surprise at the chasm which existed between Leinster's supposed top two on Sunday.

"The highlights showed they had a lot of goal chances and they have been doing that all year. Teams know that but they still can't stop them.

"As I said, that's the challenge for everyone. That's the challenge for Meath now in the Leinster final. They will do their best to do it but it will be difficult for them."

It's not two years since Dublin and Donegal played out an All-Ireland semi-final which, for gruesomeness, might have been unfavourably compared to a scene from Apocalypse Now. Yet both teams have changed. Vitally, they have both won All-Irelands, but with the arrival of Jim Gavin Dublin have built a team on the principles of attacking, man-marking and hard work.



Praise has been flowing and Dublin and Gavin have been held aloft as the new bastions of the beautiful game and an example to any developing team.

Were they, however, to fail against Donegal, despite all that pace and all that talent so focused on attacking, other managers might feel – not unreasonably – that attempting to fight the Tír Chonaill juggernaught with anything other than containment and restriction was foolhardy.

"I would say without a doubt, Jim Gavin has brought his own print on it," Murphy admits. "They have always played a fairly attacking brand of football and without a doubt, they are continuing that on. There are different aspects that have changed.

"You have to say, on the evidence now, they are changing and evolving with the game at the moment. And they're up there for every team to knock off."

So who are favourites? At the moment, it's Dublin. Donegal are tucked neatly in behind, perhaps only off the narrowest price solely on the rule than defending All-Ireland champions don't win the All-Ireland.

Mayo won't have to occupy the extremes of their reserves until the Bank Holiday weekend at the earliest and of both Cork and Kerry, little enough is as yet known.

"They're up there. Whether they're favourites or some other team are favourites, you won't really be looking past your next game," Murphy insists. "Dublin are there at the moment. Cork and Kerry will be out and Mayo – they are the teams you would be looking towards in the latter stages.

"But for us and ourselves, it's a huge game against Monaghan (in the Ulster final). But as I say all the time and you might be used to it, it's one game at a time. And that's what we're doing."

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