St Brigid’s team-mates for a few years, Cahill found the Donegal manager a deep thinker of the game. It’s why he, probably more than the average Dublin supporter, is slightly fearful ahead of the All-Ireland quarter-final.
“It’s going to be difficult and I expect Rory Gallagher to do something different. I know Rory quite well and just thinking about it when he sat down to plan for the year I’m sure he felt they would have to play Dublin at some point to get to an All-Ireland final or win an All-Ireland, so I think he will try something unusual.”
Gallagher said just that after beating Cork last Saturday.
It may just be that he takes a leaf out of his former friend Jim McGuinness’ guide to beating Dublin and putting two big men in the full-forward line. Cahill doesn’t disagree: “Potentially Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher from the first minute if Gallagher is fit. You don’t know.
“If they do go with that Cian O’Sullivan will drop that bit deeper, which will give them the chance to have a runner or an overlap in the middle third which Donegal are brilliant at.”
Cahill had him tagged as an inter-county manager from early doors during their playing time together.
“As soon as he came into our club in 2002, he nearly became player-manager at one stage – he was that vocal. In training, in the drills that we did, in the tactics, video sessions, you could see straight away that he had the mindset of a coach from his mid-20s onwards. It was no surprise that he took to management like he did.”
The pair remain friendly, although Gallagher was critical of Cahill when he made a match-ending tackle on Karl Lacey in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final, a challenge many believe was the changing of the team.
“I remember seeing a few comments (by Gallagher) in the press questioning a few of the tackles. I think he was alluding to me. No, nothing directly. I remember getting a bit of stick from Donegal fans – it was the only time I ever got stick. I met Karl about it in recent years. He came back to win player of the year the following year so maybe I didn’t hit him hard enough!”
From a Dublin perspective, Cahill doesn’t believe James McCarthy will be fit to start on Saturday. With Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey in mind, the thoughts of losing half of last year’s All-Ireland winning defence against a team of Donegal’s ilk are disturbing.
“On the back of the All- Ireland last year, I felt no team was going to get up to Dublin’s level but they are missing Rory and Jack it has been a leveller and potentially James missing as well does make it a level playing field.
“For Donegal going into it, they have a lot of good games under their belt in the last six weeks and that will stand to them but I don’t agree with people who say Donegal are an aging team their average is still quite good.
“Some might say they could be tired going into Saturday but they have played five championship matches since early April and I think any inter-county team should be able to handle that once the training isn’t excessive so it should be interesting.”
Whatever is said about the team, Cahill detects no fatigue in Ryan McHugh who is such good form the Dubliner believes Jim Gavin should assign a defender to mark him.
“There is an argument to be made of putting a defender on him, try and man-mark him. He’s such a key player. He got two goals in 2014 semi-final, could have got a third.
“The thing that has impressed me this year, his long-range point scoring has been phenomenal. He has been Donegal’s best player. Contender for Footballer of the Year.
“When you’re playing against a team that has a really good footballing midfielder, you should put a defender on him, let’s say against a Seán Cavanagh back in the day or a Mattie Donnelly midfielder. Put a defender on him and try and nullify the opposition’s best player.
“I don’t think Dublin would lose a huge amount attacking wise by going that route and if you’re trying to quieten the opposition’s strength like Ryan McHugh I think it would be a good note to do.”