Defeat out of the question for deadly Dublin

Dublin 1-20 Donegal 0-13: Different week, same old story.

The sight of so many Roscommon fans streaming out of Croke Park after the first of yesterday’s Allianz League semi-finals said as much about the prospects for the second game as the disappointment they clearly felt at the outcome of the opener.

What would they get by staying another few hours, after all? Dublin and Donegal had met at HQ a fortnight earlier and it took 45 minutes for Jim Gavin’s side to wriggle free of the defensive straitjacket. The game ended with just 18 scores posted, but the usual Dublin win.

It didn’t make for the most appetising of main courses.

Those departing Roscommon fans weren’t the only ones who lacked the stomach for the repeat. This was a hard sell for the neutral. It actually took just over 35 minutes for that tally of 18 scores to be equalled yesterday and yet this still wasn’t a game to rave about.

Bernard Brogan’s goal just after the interval left Dublin eight points in front. The script everyone expected had been supplanted by a game that was surprisingly open, fluid and even, at times aesthetically pleasing, but sport is devalued without intensity or suspense.

This game had neither.

Dublin never trailed. They took the lead after two minutes, shipped an equaliser soon after which they answered two minutes later, and then pulled away bit by inevitable bit on the scoreboard.

Just another day in the big blue house.

What’s truly astonishing is not so much the players they had on the park, but those who were absent for a variety of reasons. No Diarmuid Connolly, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon. Jack McCaffrey and Rory O’Carroll away doing their own things. And yet look at that end result.

Their march is relentless, regardless of the foot soldiers.

Yesterday marked their 21st league and championship game in-a-row without defeat and it leaves them 70 minutes away from capturing a fourth successive league title. Only Kerry, the last county to claim that quartet of trophies in 1974, stand in their way. It will be the pair’s first meeting in a league decider since 1987.

Dublin look as close to the complete team now as it is close to get. They bettered Donegal in a game where the Ulster side favoured containment and claustrophobia two weeks ago and the result was the exact same this time when Rory Gallagher’s side loosened their own shackles.

Yet Dublin are like all teams in that they are vulnerable when the opposition runs at them with pace. Donegal managed it only fitfully yesterday and Gavin had Cian O’Sullivan stood square at centre-back this time, unlike in that famous All-Ireland semi-final two years ago at Croke Park.

There would be no unhindered access through to Stephen Cluxton’s goal here.

Time and again Frank McGlynn, Ryan McHugh or Odhran Mac Niallais would seek avenues past the massed Dublin ranks and on most occasions they found every door shut. They were equally frustrated after the break when quicker balls were aimed in at their twin full-forward line.

Dublin had more in their arsenal and more ways to fire it. One 60-second snapshot near the end of the first-half saw them burst the length of the field before forcing a save from Mark Anthony McGinley and Ciarán Kilkenny fire over from distance and beyond a packed rearguard.

Dublin can dance no matter what the tune.

The bright spot for Donegal in all of this was Paddy McBrearty. He excavated eight points from the Dublin defence, three of them from play, but Donegal’s only other score on the go was a point from Martin McElhinney and they had just three scorers in total.

Dublin spread theirs among 11 men, five of them defenders.

Only four scores were sourced from dead balls, all of them from the impressive Dean Rock, but you could have set up a player cam on any number of boys in blue and have ended up convinced they had been man-of-the-match.

Kilkenny earned the ‘Best of …’ accolade from the TV crew, but Dublin’s dominance started with Cluxton’s piercingly accurate kickouts and continued right through to the far end where their forwards hustled Donegal’s ’keeper into long kickouts and endless battles of aerial combat.

They lost most of those, too.

Cluxton’s kickouts were sensational, even by his standards. Philly McMahon popped up at both ends of the pitch, Brian Fenton showed few signs of second-season syndrome and Paddy Andrew, Kilkenny, Rock, the returning Paul Mannion and Bernard Brogan all left their marks.

How can anyone turn their backs on football like that?

Scorers for Dublin:

D Rock (0-5, 3 frees); B Brogan (1-2); C Kilkenny (0-3); P Andrews and P Mannion (both 0-2); P McMahon, J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small, C Costello and E Lowndes (all 0-1).

Scorers for Donegal:

P McBrearty (0-8, 5 frees); M Murphy (0-4 frees); M McElhinney (0-1).

DUBLIN:

S Cluxton; P McMahon, J McCarthy, J Cooper; J Small, C O’Sullivan, D Small; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, D Rock, C Kilkenny; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: C Costello for Andrews (45); E Lowndes for Bastick (49); M Fitzsimons for McMahon (53); SB Carthy for Flynn (61); K O’Brien for Cooper (63); S Carthy for O’Sullivan (67).

DONEGAL:

MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; C Gillespie, R McHugh, K Lacey; R Kavanagh, O Mac Niallais; F McGlynn, M McElhinney, M O’Reilly; L McLoone, M Murphy, P McBrearty. Subs: S McBrearty for O’Reilly (15); C McGobnagle for Mac Niallais (50); C McFadden for McElhinney (53); C Toye for Kavanagh (67); EB Gallagher for McLoone (67; J O’Brien for Gillespie (71).

Referee:

M Deegan (Laois).


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