DUBS MISS shot at greatness
HAVING never witnessed a losing Jim Gavin press conference, we weren't quite sure what to expect in Croke Park yesterday.
Turns out, it's roughly similar to the ones he conducts after Dublin's victories, only maybe slightly more curt.
"I'm just disappointed for the players, to be honest," he began, having watched said players out-played and himself out-thought for the first time in his reign.
"I know the level of preparation they put into this game was phenomenal and I couldn't question their determination, their commitment and their resolve to the bitter end to keep going at it."
There were questions to be answered though about aspects of Dublin's performance, it's just that Gavin was typically elusive about directly answering them.
Such as why, whenever Donegal won their own kick-out in the second half, did a goal chance seem to open up almost instantly?
"They controlled the ball very well and put us under a lot of pressure," Gavin said, by way of explanation.
"And went hard at us and they took their goal chances and that's a credit to them how they set themselves up."
Had he been taken by surprise by any aspect of Donegal's game plan?
"No," he asserted. "we knew going into the game both defensively and offensively it was going to be very demanding game."
"And it turned out to be that game. We were fully prepared and our focus was always on Donegal and not beyond it and to that end you'd have to give great credit to Dublin and how they prepared that way.
"But on the day we were just beaten by a better Donegal team.
"We anticipated that Donegal were going to come at us and we had prepared for lots of scenarios and that was one of them so over the expanse of the game Donegal were the better team and fully deserved the victory."
Even if there were a couple of side-winders from Jim McGuinness, Gavin wouldn't be the sort to admit it.
And while hindsight, obviously, is not much of a managerial tool, it's difficult to figure out quite why Gavin never solidified the middle of his defence, when Donegal were pouring through its soft centre in the second half.
In this, they surely missed Ger Brennan, the main organiser of the Dublin defence in recent years, a player whose calm and organisational skills his team were crying out for in his absence yesterday.
And Gavin, with some justification, could argue that all systems work once the players execute them to a high level but being outnumbered at the back and thus giving up those goal chances to a team against whom conceding any sort of lead is almost surely fatal was, in itself, and act of hara-kiri.
Against that, had the otherwise exquisite Diarmuid Connolly nailed that goal chance in the first half to put Dublin seven points up, chances are Donegal never would have made up that ground.
"Goals are always good to get and you get momentum from it and Donegal certainly got momentum from their goals and it's the way it went for us today," said Gavin.
But in his half-time analysis, Joe Brolly was spot-on. Connolly's and Paul Flynn's long-range points were strokes of genius.
But that method of scoring is hardly sustainable over the span of such an intense game, particularly with Donegal's confidence exploding with each goal scored.
Quite what long-term consequences this loss might have for Dublin is not clear.
A devastated Alan Brogan remained on the pitch a little longer than everyone else, perhaps taking in what might be his last appearance in a Dublin jersey or maybe just by way of avoiding the dressing-room a little longer.
But either way, Gavin wasn't about indulge.
"There is no talk of that at the moment," he said.
"The guys are just very disappointed with the defeat but we must acknowledge that Donegal played very well. In the coming weeks they will go back to their clubs and we will regroup and try and grow as a team and prepare ourselves for the coming season."
By comparison, Jim McGuinness was positively illuminating.
Then again, he is rapidly entering O'Dwyer/Heffernan/Boylan territory as one of football's great managers.
"It was a challenge," he reflected.
"The reality for us was: Could we face it down? When you want to beat Dublin you have to face that challenge down. If you don't face that challenge down or you take a back step - one back step - they will absolutely annihilate you.
"The big thing was to keep doing what we spoke about, keep driving the game plan, keep driving themselves."
"I asked them: 'Do you believe in yourself and do you believe in your team-mates?' That was the key thing. They kept pushing and pushing and we got over the line.
"It's just a great feeling, but we need to get back at it very quickly to prepare for Kerry."
That game, for sentimental reasons, McGuinness said would be "a dream final," and if, as some have intimated, he will leave Donegal afterwards, his reign will go down as one of the most brilliant in football history.
Dublin's pain, meanwhile, will be knowing they missed an opportunity to be considered in that bracket too.