Tuesday 22 January 2019

naive Dubs caught cold

It may sound like an over-simplification of the events that unfolded in Croke Park yesterday afternoon but the importance that goals bring to matches at the highest level cannot be overestimated.

The goals allowed Donegal to implement the defensive tactics that were so successful during their All-Ireland campaign of two years ago and sadly, from a Dublin perspective, they didn't have the answers in the second half.

Full credit must go to Donegal and to Jim McGuinness,in particular.

He is without question the best manager in the modern game by a long stretch and the game plan he adopted worked a treat.

It was possible that he would have been happy to go into the break with a narrow deficit so leading at half-time was perfect as it allowed Donegal to funnel back in numbers and hit Dublin on the counter-attack.

In some degree, Dublin played into their hands as they left far too big a gap between their nominal half-back line and their full-back line and Donegal were able to expose that gap clinically, as reflected by the two second-half goals they scores through Ryan McHugh and Colm McFadden.

That gap did not appear by coincidence and McGuinness was very shrewd in the manner that James McCarthy and Jonny Cooper were forced up the field, accentuating the space that Donegal could exploit.

It was obvious from the early stages that Dublin had practiced for the unique challenge that Donegal would present and the manner in which they were happy to take on shots from distance reflected that.

However, despite the fact that tactic yielded excellent points from Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin were guilty at times of overplaying the ball, playing right into Donegal's hands.


It was worrying that all these scores were of a high quality as the simple scores proved hard to create.

In contrast, Donegal availed of the one goal chance that came their way and the oxygen that goal provided them was a huge factor.

If Dublin had managed to convert one of the goal chances in that first half, maybe the margin would have been too great for Donegal and I'm certain Jim Gavin will reflect on those misses as turning points in the game.

By missing those chances, it enabled Donegal to dictate the encounter on their own terms and as the match progressed, Dublin became progressively more ragged and were guilty of taking the wrong option, especially as they chased the game in the second half.

The fear from a Dublin perspective before the game was that they hadn't being suitably challenged up to now and the concern was that they wouldn't be capable of raising their intensity if the need arose.

As it unfolded, it was clear that Dublin were not sufficiently prepared for the intensity that Donegal brought to the match and to be honest, the result looked inevitable even with 20 minutes remaining.

It is a hugely disappointing thing to admit but Dublin weren't battle-hardened to the level of their opponents and Donegal can feel justifiably proud of the display that they produced.

They were superb all the way through and fully deserved their win with the likes of Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Odhrán Mac Niallais producing exceptional displays.


Neil McGee also held the defensive line very well at full-back and Dublin never looked likely to find that all-important goal that could have launched a comeback.

I think one of the lessons learned from yesterday is the truism that an All-Ireland title is so difficult to defend, as Dublin have found out painfully in both 2012 and yesterday.

So much of the modern game is built around the intensity that teams can bring to matches and that hunger cannot be instilled in players.

Maybe Dublin were slightly complacent ahead of the game yesterday and when they needed to pull the game from the fire, they lacked the necessary mental hardness to get the job done.

That was reflected in the panic they showed in the closing stages as they brought the ball into the tackle far too often and they were also guilty of some poor shot selection as the match evolved.

They will need to dust themselves down after this defeat and try again next year.

The talent in Dublin is still there, despite what happened in Croke Park yesterday, but they will just have to accept that they were tactically beaten yesterday and they may need to revise how they approach the championship for the coming year.

It was not their fault that they got caught in the headlights in some respects, as most people predicted they would have enough quality to overcome Donegal.

The poverty of the Leinster Championship has not helped them in that regard and having so little resistance before an All-Ireland quarter-final has ultimately mitigated against them.

However, the day belongs to Donegal and it would be wrong to detract from what was a superb tactical performance by them.

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