DUBS IN NEED OF A REVAMP.
TWO goals was all it took to destroy the most unbackable favourites for the All-Ireland in verifiable memory.
For the first (though actually Donegal’s second of the day) Ryan McHugh drifted into a spot right in front of Stephen Cluxton.
Both Mick Fitzsimons and Nicky Devereux were caught in two minds; engage Anthony Thompson, the ball-carrier, or guard Colm McFadden.
But neither thought it pertinent to man McHugh.
Dublin’s half-back line were – as had become a theme on the day – taken completely out of the picture.
That goal, after Donegal’s gutsy first-half fight back, made a game of it, put it up to Dublin and prodded at their resolve.
The second broke them.
If you watch it again, Paul Durcan takes an age over Donegal’s kick-out, a piece of artillery which, at this stage, had been transformed from a weakness to a strength.
He scans both wings, runs towards the ball and stalls.
Then Durcan resets his process and launches long down the middle for Michael Murphy to break, not unlike Michael Darragh Macauley in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final in the preamble to Kevin McManamon’s goal.
Neil Gallagher and Ódhran MacNiallais play a one-two.
To their left, Colm McFadden and Paddy McBrearty are in open space.
Dublin have just Fitzsimons, Macauley and Phill McMahon giving chase.
Between Durcan’s kick and McFadden walking the ball into the Dublin net, just 16 seconds passed.
Five minutes later, a quick Karl Lacey free-kick from his own half finds Murphy again, who puts McHugh clear – again. And only the agility and reflexes keep Donegal’s latest star from finishing his hat-trick.
In between the two goals, only the lightning pace of Nicky Devereux prevents Donegal from establishing another overlap, when McHugh goes through from yet another break from yet another long Durcan kick-out when eventually McFadden fists a point.
And later again, Paddy McBrearty comes on to kick two points from straight down the middle of the Dublin defence.
Earlier this year, Jim McGuinness said what made Dublin vulnerable was their devotion to their style.
Even if they did it brilliantly, you still knew what it was going to look like and thus could plan accordingly.
And so with Dublin staying true to their theme of pushing right up on the opposition’s kick-outs, each bomb from Durcan took out Dublin’s entire half-back line, their half-forward line and more often than not, one of their midfielders.
All Murphy or Neil Gallagher had to do was break the ball, hope it fell to a Donegal man and they would open a three versus three situation with possession and large patches of land in which to choreograph a goal chance.
Those are pretty good odds.
In short, almost every time Donegal won one of their own kick-outs in the second half, a goal chance presented itself and at no stage did Dublin veer from type.
Jim Gavin said afterwards that nothing that Donegal did on the day had come as any sort of surprise but quite why he didn’t establish another deeper-lying preventative member of the Dublin team behind their midfield is difficult to decipher.
Then again, if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, Gavin was right to stick closely to the game plan which had won Dublin an All-Ireland, two Leinster Championships and two League titles.
But if you take the theory that, individually, Dublin have better players than Donegal as fact, the only logical conclusion is that McGuinness out-thought Gavin and that their tactical set-up was more effective.
And there had been warning signs for Gavin, too.
Kerry scored three goals in the All-Ireland semi-final last year and quite probably, their own blood-thirst cost them and allowed Dublin to play their way back into the match.
In the League semi-final this year, Dublin were ten down against Cork and won by seven.
It was compelling stuff but the likelihood of overhauling that sort of deficit in a big Championship match against a big Championship side is almost nil.
All of which is why it’s tough to establish what Jim Gavin does with this team now. He has another year to run on his term and there seemed no question of him wishing to break that agreement on Sunday when he conducted his post-match press conference.
Mostly, he has the personnel, although Gavin could certainly do with another viable option in midfield and some quality back-up wing-forwards.
If Alan Brogan does retire – and as of yesterday, he had yet to make that decision – Ciarán Kilkenny’s return from injury would certainly soften the blow but Sunday’s defeat will, mostly, have asked Gavin searching questions about his own methods.
Not so long ago, they were the saviours of Gaelic football. A team on the cusp of greatness.
Now, they just look a little gullible, which might be unfair given had either Diarmuid Connolly or Bernard Brogan’s first-half goal chances gone in, they probably would have won but Gavin is too shrewd a manager not to take on board the sore lessons of Sunday, such as the value of a ‘holding’ centre-back.
Gavin is a self professed traditionalist and believes his team play football the way Dublin teams have historically played; watching Donegal walk in those goals felt strangely akin to Tyrone’s annihilation of Pillar Caffrey’s side in the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Back then, Dublin were tactically outplayed and seen as lacking sufficient quality to win an All-Ireland.
Now, at least only one of those applies. (The Herald)