Five things we learned from the league semi-finals

Panel depth allows Dublin to experiment and other lessons from Sunday...

Big guns’ strength in depth

For the second Allianz League campaign in a row, Dublin have looked at 35 different players yet still maintained an impressive fluidity and focus. Kerry, whom they face in the final, have also looked at 35 players in their eight games to date, as have Mayo. That’s nine players more than Monaghan have used and is a hugely impressive statistic.

Whatever about Kerry, who haven’t featured in a league final since 2009, it says a lot about Dublin’s panel depth that they can experiment so freely while continuing to win league titles. They have Con O’Callaghan to come back into the setup from the U21s too and, potentially, a couple of his underage colleagues.

It’s ‘only the league’ to Donegal

It may be entirely coincidental, but it’s three years in a row now that Donegal’s league campaign has ended with anaemic Croke Park defeat. The suspicion when Donegal lost to Cork in last year’s semi-final was that they didn’t fancy a blood and thunder showdown with Dublin so close to their championship opener against Tyrone.

The previous year, they lost a Division 2 final to Monaghan that they were expected to win. All of which seems to suggest that Donegal are happy to play their group games and park the league at that point. Rory Gallagher admitted as much yesterday when he said “there wasn’t the same tactical focus as you would (have) for another game”. It’s Donegal’s prerogative but supporters travelling to Croke Park may feel short-changed.

Gavin has choice to fill O’Carroll gap

Rory O’Carroll’s departure left a giant hole in Dublin’s defence but Jim Gavin has several options. James McCarthy started full-back yesterday but David Byrne or Michael Fitzsimons appear more likely to get the number three jersey long-term. Kevin O’Brien finished the game in the full-back line and is an interesting option after recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury. John Small seems more likely to slot in at wing-back following Jack McCaffrey’s departure. It’s a case of so far, so good for Dublin’s defence, who leaked the least of any team in Division 1 in the group stage and restricted Donegal to just 13 points, mostly from frees.

The bean counters will be happy

It’s 29 years since Dublin and Kerry last contested a league final and a repeat of that 1987 encounter couldn’t have come at a better time. Croke Park will stage a live event on that afternoon ahead of the Division 1 and 2 finals which they have billed as a celebration of “our national identity”. It will be exactly 100 years since the 1916 rising took place and the presence of Dublin and Kerry on the bill that afternoon must be a huge relief to organisers. A large crowd will be guaranteed as Dublin attempt to keep their foot down on Kerry and retain their own grip on history where the Kingdom are concerned. Both teams will be at close to full strength, so it should be a famous day.

Donegal lean too heavily on Murphy

Two games against Dublin in a matter of weeks underlined the extent to which Donegal rely on Michael Murphy. Donegal trailed by just a point in the sides’ group game last month when Murphy was shown a black card and they ended up losing to Dublin by six, conjuring just one point in the final 25 minutes or so. Back at Croke Park yesterday, captain Murphy stayed on the field but fired five second-half wides.Nobody was able to step up and take the pressure off him. Donegal managed just 0-1 from play, from Paddy McBrearty, in the second half, and had just three scorers in the game overall. That lack of penetration is a problem and the sooner Colm McFadden reaches full fitness and rekindles past form, the better.


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