The Dublin- Donegal clash in Croke Park on Saturday evening provided huge entertainment on a day when there were plenty of counter attractions on TV. This was a fascinating clash of two styles and the wounds of last year’s defeat to Donegal were very much evident, with Dublin choosing to front up physically to their northern nemesis. Jim Gavin, visibly more animated on the line, has certainly learned from Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat.
He, like Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the All-Ireland final, decided that the only way to beat Donegal was at their own game.
Man of the match John Small played a huge role in the victory. The Ballymun lad, just out of Under-21 grade, was immense. His disciplined sweeping in front of the Dublin full-back line, proved crucial, as did the tight defending of Mick Fitzsimons and Darren Daly. The stat that defines the influence of both defences on the game is the fact that both Donegal and Dublin only took 48% of their scoring chances. This was thanks, in the main, to two dominant defensive systems that forced players to shoot with haste and from distance. The return of Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan will no doubt improve Dublin in this department. Now that they have got their defensive system in place, the Dubs should once again be a frightening force in the summer. More than anything Dublin’s huge strength in depth gives them a huge advantage over their rivals.
The defeat will leave Rory Gallagher searching for answers. Donegal failed miserably again against a team playing a defensive system. In some ways the monster is beginning to rule the master because Donegal appear to be incapable of breaking down a mass defence and unlike Dublin, they were playing the majority of their starting 15. Gallagher also has concerns over Paul Durcan. The keeper was once again responsible for gifting a goal from a poorly-placed kick out. Durcan looks like a man whose confidence is shaken and we all know the importance of the kick-out strategy in the modern game.
This was proved by the brilliance of both Cork’s Ken O’Halloran and Rory Beggan of Monaghan in Castleblaney. For a second week in a row, O’Halloran’s quick kick-out strategy was central to a fluid Cork game plan. Beggan was equally impressive in goal for Monaghan. For Brian Cuthbert, this proved to be another huge confidence boost for his new system and new personnel. Cork, unlike Dublin and Donegal, were impressively assured in front of goal. Their scoring chances ratio of 70% proved the winning of a tight game.
Cork produced only 10 scoring chances in the second half but took eight of them (2-6 in total), while Monaghan had 16 scoring chances and they managed a return of 10 points. One huge negative from the game, from a Cork point of view, was their concession of 30 frees in total. Their propensity to foul gifted Monaghan a number of easy tip-over frees. With a massed defence like Cork’s, they will need to be much more disciplined in their defending in future. Monaghan, on the other hand, were a little unlucky to lose out but their inability to hold the dangerous Colm O’Neill proved their undoing.
One other important footnote from the weekend was the exasperating inconsistencies of referee. The most annoying of all for fans, and no doubt players and managers, is the interpretation of the black card rule. Although the rule book clearly states that players are not allowed to intimidate, sledge or abuse officials this is still common in the game and I have yet to see a player receive a black card for such an offence. It also appears that unless you rugby tackle an opponent to the ground, you will receive a yellow card. Players are now just staying on their feet when they drag men down. The clear definition of the black card rule is not being applied and someone needs to tell us why.