A long wait will, replays permitting, end for one team on Sunday. Emmet Ryan breaks down the second of this year’s All Ireland Football Semi Finals as Dublin take on Donegal for the right to take on Kerry.
It was never about out-Tyroneing Tyrone
Before getting to the meat of this match-up it’s important to understand the changes both teams have made to get here. Donegal and Dublin were both, for many years, stumped by the approach taken by teams like Tyrone. Solving the swarm strategy used by Mickey Harte’s team was never as simple as merely mimicking it. Pat Gilroy and Jim McGuinness both recognised that any strategy to push their outfits to the next level would need to fit the talent available. It’s not about cloning, it’s about using the parts of a strategy that best fit your team and building a new set of tactics around it. McGuinness and Gilroy both get that and should be praised for it.
No team builds from the back quite the way Donegal do. Typically swarm or blanket defences rely on speed in the break but it really isn’t a necessity the way this team plays. The combination effectively involves a high blanket, inviting teams onto the 45 before the swarm hits and hard. Donegal have won repeatedly this season by playing large chunks of time between 45s, giving them an upper hand in dictating when the ball enters high-percentage scoring zones.
There are two critical factors Donegal must overcome, and neither of them involve making room for the highly-talented Michael Murphy.
Donegal wisely foul high up the pitch. A critic would call this cynical but when you are in the business of winning games giving away three frees on the 45 is better than one on the 21. That is unless the opponent has a solid long-range free taker and Dublin certainly have that in Stephen Cluxton. He’s a variable McGuinness will surely plan for. Likewise he must also devise a strategy to counter Dublin’s success in creating score-able efforts between the 21 and 45. The deep lying position of the full back line should help to some degree but this battle could prove to be the winning and losing of the match.
Where Dublin must be inventive
The alterations to Dublin’s defence against Tyrone in the quarter-final were a master-stroke. With the full back line operating in a particularly deep position to limit the impact of up the middle runs. Dublin must find a way to deploy this tactic again, to stop Murphy above all others, but without having their speed stifled. Donegal will be able to hang with Gilroy’s men if the half backs and midfield, particularly Michael Dara McAuley, can’t break quickly.
Last time out Dublin made effective use of patient build-up to create chances outside the 21. That was a clever ploy but it needs a wrinkle this time to beat Donegal’s well-marshalled and deeper lying full-back line. Effectively it’s going to be about keeping the defence honest. Playing a lone out-and-out inside forward in Bernard Brogan would be the wise move again but Dublin must press higher more often to ensure they don’t get smother outside the 21.
Donegal’s win over Kildare and Dublin’s over Tyrone were two tactically fascinating duels and this promises to top both of those. Dublin’s recent move to adopt an element of the blanket into their swarm, albeit one radically different from Donegal’s, presents an interesting challenge for the Ulster champions’ brain trust. The victory will come down in part to how well each manager calculates their risks.
Dublin fans should be wary of any involvement of Eoghan O’Gara. Fully fit, he is a force of nature that no defence wants to see but anything less and he disrupts the flow of attack. There is no middle ground with him sadly. Likewise Dublin must be willing to go for goal but not becoming obsessed with the mythical killer goal.
Donegal for their part will need to work out Dublin’s attack early. The number of different looks Gilroy’s men have shown opponents this season means Donegal’s backs will need to adapt early. There is also an added burden on their forwards as this is by far the most disciplined defence Donegal will have faced in 2011.
It promises to be a desperately close game but calling a winner is part of this job. The bookies have Dublin as 4 point favourites, I think that is a little generous but the tag is rightly earned. Donegal may be waiting since 1992 to play the big one but it’s Dublin I see ending their 16 year wait and progressing to the All Ireland Final.
This post was delayed due to recent personal events affecting the author. The review of Sunday’s game will be late for similar reasons. We offer our sincerest apologies to all our readers for the delays.
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