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Friday 19 October 2018

Dubs drive on as boos and oles sound

MAJESTIC: Dublin’s Brian Fenton outfields Donegal’s Caolan Ward Pics: Sportsfile
MAJESTIC: Dublin’s Brian Fenton outfields Donegal’s Caolan Ward Pics: Sportsfile

Boos and olés. Briefly, the respective supporters of Dublin and Donegal concerned themselves with greeting each late, possession-hugging Dublin pass with an exclamation of their disapproval or approval, where applicable.

Donegal supporters clearly felt that Dublin had some unwritten duty to attack with every possession and therefore risk being hit on the break.

For their part, Dublin supporters had seen this all before, the most famous example being last September's high-wire act in the All-Ireland final, when Dublin led by just a point but cradled the ball inside their own danger zone with consummate poise, despite the desperate attempts of Mayo to force a high-yield turnover.

Here's how it worked.

On the stroke of 67 minutes in Croke Park on Saturday evening, Michael Murphy kicked Donegal's last score, a close-range free.

Donegal's next touch was a free from Frank McGlynn in front of their own goals, passed to Leo McLoone, after Kevin McManamon was penalised for over-carrying after scurrying through the cover towards goal on 70 minutes and 34 seconds.

Preservation

At that stage, Dublin had had 34 touches and executed 29 lateral or backwards passes.

Some 13 Dublin players laid hands on the ball between Murphy's point and Donegal being granted possession again by Conor Lane - Paul Flynn and Con O'Callaghan being the exceptions.

Donegal then had a period of 21 seconds in possession, featuring five passes, on the end of which Stephen McBrearty had a shot blocked by Jonny Cooper.

Cue the second instalment of Dublin's preservation act.

KEEP BALL: Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action during last Saturday night’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 clash
KEEP BALL: Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action during last Saturday night’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 clash

Between 70 minutes and 34 seconds, the moment of McBrearty's effort and the 11th second of the 74th minute, when Paul Flynn kicked the final point of the match, Donegal didn't touch the ball.

And they killed precious seconds themselves with bad fouls committed through clear frustration: Michael Murphy on Mick Fitzsimons, Ryan McHugh on Ciarán Kilkenny and Anthony Thompson on Cian O'Sullivan.

In all, Dublin completed 78 passes between Murphy's free and Flynn's point.

Donegal completed five.

Dublin hadn't so much hammered Donegal as sucked all the oxygen and drained all the energy from their legs and minds.

"There was one or two players that had dropped off, they were trying to get them out," reflected Donegal boss, Declan Bonner, afterwards.

Dublin’s Paul Mannion beats Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher to the ball
Dublin’s Paul Mannion beats Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher to the ball

"But Dublin are the best side in the country at ball retention and they can see the clock down and it's always…because they're confident on the ball and we probably didn't put enough pressure on them in the final third."

In his last Championship defeat, almost four full years ago, Jim Gavin's Dublin attempted to run through and over Donegal with every single possession.

It was enthralling but evidently risky.

On Saturday however, Dublin attempted to coax Donegal out of their defensive formation and punch holes inside.

When they're writing this team's epitaph, it may not go down as their most exciting trait, although it is probably one of their most useful.

"I would agree, we were in control, that is for sure," reflected Gavin.

"We controlled the game well particularly the last 10 or 15 minutes. I think the team finished it really well, the substitutes that came on all played their part and brought something to the game and gave us a new impetus.

"I thought we closed it out very well and in this format it is all about coming away with the two points at this stage of it.

"To that end we are satisfied."

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