Flynn ideal man to stop Donegal raiders
It was always going to come to this. Despite the respectful approach to their Leinster opponents, Jim Gavin's meticulous planning would have identified early August as the key date for the real battle to retain Sam Maguire to begin.
I appreciate that as a group Dublin have always worked off the mantra that the next game is the most important one, but given the lack of endeavor that was required to lift a sixth consecutive provincial title, this particular game has the potential to be a defining one for Gavin's troops in respect of their hunger, desire and downright doggedness.
One of the common themes heard when champions get knocked out of a competition is how they thought they were at the pitch of the battle until their opponents unleashed a passion play that the incumbents just couldn't respond to.
I'm not assuming Dublin don't have the voracity to meet Donegal head on, in fact I'd like to think that the pain of 2014 is fresh in the memory and will ignite a spark.
But there is an element of apprehension in the air as the reigning champions have yet to convince that the absences across their defensive formation have been tested sufficiently to stand up to the undoubted quality coming their way this weekend.
In Michael Murphy, who admittedly had a quiet game last Saturday, and Paddy McBrearty, Donegal have an inside line that can pose considerable questions of Dublin's full-back line if provided with enough artillery.
Although Murphy's positioning has been a bone of contention, I have a feeling that Rory Gallagher might borrow a tactic from Jim McGuinness' 2012 playbook and dump early ball in on top of the big Glenswilly man in the hope of bagging an early goal.
For Donegal to come away with a win, goals are a must, which may force Gavin to look at bringing Michael Fitzsimmons into his team, who offers an experienced mentality to the set-up.
This in turn creates an option to push Johnny Cooper forward, in an effort to plug the gap across a half-back line shorn of their most powerful and influential line-breaker, James McCarthy.
Despite having a rich talent pool to draw on, the placement of Ciaran Kilkenny at the beginning of the second-half in a deeper role against Westmeath demonstrated the considerable hole that Gavin has to fill in the absence of McCarthy and the 2015 player of the year Jack McCaffrey.
The reason these guys have been so critical to Dublin's success is that deep-lying ball carriers are fundamental in the modern game to breaking down stacked defensive alignments.
Take last weekend as a case in point. Galway went into their quarter-final with a 13-man defensive cordon that had restricted Roscommon's starting forwards to just six points from play in their replayed Connacht final. Yet they coughed up six or seven goal chances last Sunday, as they failed to deal with the marauding runs of Tipperary's Brian Fox and Bill Maher.
Donegal were arguably the purveyors of this tactic and at the moment have one of the finest exponents of the art in Ryan McHugh. Two years ago McHugh bagged 2-2 as Dublin failed to tag his runs in behind a stretched defensive line.
What Dublin don't want to see happening is the likes of Diarmuid Connolly or Ciaran Kilkenny expending huge amounts of energy tracking McHugh back the field, when clearly their greatest attributes to the team is heading in the opposite direction.
I would consider assigning Paul Flynn the man-marking duties, not because he doesn't contribute on the scoreboard, but more so as an additional option in terms of a runner coming from deep.
Having struggled to shake-off a persistent groin injury, Flynn appears to have timed his run to full fitness this year to perfection. Not only does he have the power to break through Donegal's defensive line, but he also has the ability to deliver a 40-yard pass that can bypass retreating bodies.
In a game where space will be at a premium, Dublin's ability to mix this powerful running game with accurate foot-passing will in my view set the tone.
What will determine if they win the game will be their ability to demonstrate they have a renewed appetite to stare down the pretenders to their throne now that we have entered to business end of the season.