Former Donegal footballer Brendan Devenney expects Declan Bonner’s men to dump Mayo out of the championship this Saturday but believes Donegal, along with Kerry and Tyrone, are playing for second place thereafter, as Dublin will not be toppled.
The All-Ireland semi-final line-up will be finalised this Saturday evening as two from Donegal, Kerry, and Mayo joins Dublin and Tyrone in the last four. The Kingdom are heavily fancied to account for already eliminated Meath, with the last remaining place to be decided at Castlebar.
Former Donegal forward Devenney is confident the Ulster champions can overrun Mayo at Elverys MacHale Park, but there’s an equal certainty in his tone when discussing Donegal as potentially being the county to stop the Dublin drive for five.
“The best-placed team is either Kerry or Donegal. It is a toss of a coin. But, to be honest, it is a race for second,” said Devenney.
“Kerry and Donegal will trouble Dublin and they’ll both score plenty against Dublin as their forward lines are equally devastating. They do not, though, have the defensive capabilities to cope with Dublin. Tyrone, defensively, are the strongest unit of the three. But they have retreated back to a game-plan which Dublin previously picked apart. Kerry and Donegal will pick it apart too. Croke Park is too big a pitch for that system to work.
“I just don’t think either Kerry or Donegal are anywhere near ready to beat Dublin in a semi-final or final. Dublin have it all.” No doubt but Donegal boss Declan Bonner would at least like a crack off Jim Gavin’s side.
To do so, they’ll need to better Mayo on the latter’s home patch. Devenney sees the difference between Mayo and Donegal as being the current form of goalkeeper Shaun Patton, Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh, and Patrick McBrearty, a quartet who are operating at a level not a single Mayo player has hit this summer. Murphy, McHugh, and McBrearty were responsible for 1-14 of their 1-20 tally last time out against Kerry.
“These four players have been playing absolute hero stuff. I just don’t see anyone in Mayo operating at that level at the minute. Now, there is a bit of speculation about McBrearty having a hamstring problem so that could tip it back towards Mayo a small bit.
“I’ve watched the two teams play a good bit this year. Mayo are kind of stumbling through games. They are not hitting the levels of an All-Ireland contender. Home advantage hasn’t been massive for Mayo. MacHale Park isn’t really a fortress for them. What they have going for them are the thousands of Mayo fans who’ll whip up a storm on Saturday evening.
“But I just think the controlled nature of Donegal this year, how they have set up tactically and how they’ve approached games has been first class. Against Kerry, considering the injuries they had, how they managed to pull out the performance they did says a lot about how well they are going.”
The Kerry stalemate also reaffirmed to Devenney there are plenty of footballers in this team, outside of the aforementioned quartet, who can step up to the plate and providing the necessary leadership. They’ll likely be required at Castlebar as the home side, through man-marking jobs handed to Lee Keegan, Patrick Durcan and possibly Chris Barrett, will seek to nullify the impact of McHugh, McBrearty, and Murphy.
“In other years, players weren’t operating to a level to be classed as an All-Ireland contender. Like last year, nobody was talking about Shaun Patton. Stephen McMenamin has had a brilliant season. Jason McGee has come back into the team. Hugh McFadden has been putting in brilliant shifts, Jamie Brennan, the same. Nobody was talking about those players last year as being top-drawer in their position. Everyone has been doing their bit.”
He concluded: “Against Meath, it was the Mayo old guard who delivered. They’ll be saying this is going to be a swansong for some of them and they’ll want to go down fighting. If Mayo again leave gaps in the half-back line and have their full-back line exposed one-on-one, Donegal could rattle in a couple of goals. There is so much pace in this Donegal team that Mayo can’t handle it. If Donegal show the energy they have shown in other games, they could overrun Mayo.”