Posted by Mickey Harte

Looking back at the game last Sunday between Dublin and Donegal.

Defences on top 

Looking back at the game last Sunday between Dublin and Donegal it was no surprise to anybody that it was a defence-dominated game. But most people felt it would require at least a double-digit score to get the win, something in the order of 0-13 to 0-11 or 0-14 to 0-12 – which would have been a limited enough score as well – but nobody predicted it would be as low as 0-8 to 0-6.

If you said to anybody beforehand that eight points would win an All-Ireland semi-final they would just say there is no way that could happen but that’s the way the game was set-up.

Both teams were more conscious of stopping the other team scoring and hoping to get something themselves on the break. But such was the defensive nature of the game that neither team had sufficient support up quickly enough to utilise the possession they did get in the danger zone.

Therefore the game was very much about turnovers in a part of the field where it was too far out to shoot and players were forced to recycle the ball. It is inevitable then, with so many bodies back there, that there is going to be a lot of breakdown and it is very difficult to play the exact ball through needed to create an opportunity.

But it takes two to tango. The book was thrown at Donegal in the aftermath of the game but Dublin were set up as defensively as Donegal. That’s why the game did not have a different pattern. If Dublin had cut loose a bit, or used more support runners up the flanks, then they would have created a few more chances. Instead, they were happy to mirror Donegal and contain them and believe in their ability to get scores and get past in the end.

It has been Dublin’s style over the last few years to get men behind the ball and use their half-forwards as extra defenders so it isn’t fair to put all the blame for the standard of football on Donegal.

Half-time came at a good time for Dublin because it took them that first 35 minutes to get to grips with what they were facing. You can look at a team and know what they will play like but you can never be sure until you come toe-to-toe with them so Pat Gilroy and his team had to learn that in the first half and then try to do something about it.

Perhaps the personnel on the field weren’t quite doing it but Kevin McManamon came on at half-time and gave Dublin a new attacking option and a more direct runner. Funnily enough it didn’t have an impact at the beginning of the second half, as Donegal actually started it brighter.

Colm McFadden, even in the middle of the massed Dublin defence, got on the ball and kicked a point. Then he had a wide that was quite scorable and then he created the goal chance. If it had gone in it would have been a major score and would have posed serious questions to Dublin.

But once Dublin got over that they became more penetrative and McManamon’s introduction also gave Bernard Brogan more space to operate.

The sending off of Diarmuid Connolly also helped Dublin. It sounds odd but in an orthodox game the team with the extra man tends to relax mentally. They may not get as tight on their men as they know there is a spare man to bail them out if needed. But in this game it didn’t apply as nobody was marking anybody anyway. The spare man didn’t really matter but Donegal would still have relaxed a bit mentally.

Kickouts were going short so Dublin were getting the same amount of possession as before, and they were facing the same wall of defenders as before, so it didn’t harm Dublin.

In fact, it forced Dublin to step on the pedal and they raised their game after Connolly went off. McManamon’s direct play was the first injection Dublin got and Connolly’s dismissal was the second.

Dublin will appeal his red card, and it wasn’t the most serious of actions we have ever seen on a football field, but as the rule book goes the referee was right to send him off. It doesn’t say how hard you strike but a lot of other things go on that are far more dangerous than a fist.

The appeal won’t distract them for long. The players will realise that with or without Connolly they have a task in hand. He will still be part of the squad, he will still be there in training and he will provide very good practice for some of the Kerry forwards they will meet in the final.

Jim McGuinness did move Michael Murphy closer to the goals in the final 10 minutes but it is hard to change the pattern they have used all season. They did not really have a different way to play the game and it was too difficult to change to a more direct style when your whole year has been about sticking with the plan to the bitter end.

But semi-finals are for winning. It is ideal for Dublin. They had their swashbuckling day against us, when they shot points from everywhere and had lots of opportunities to take on scores. Nineteen points from play against us became two from play last Sunday and Stephen Cluxton was their second topscorer.

It was such a different game but the result is all that matters and now people are not talking about Dublin as champions elect. Instead people are asking how good are this Dublin team and can they deal with Kerry? Can Dublin respond to a different set-up? Sunday’s game leaves them so much more to work on than if they had just played as they did against us and it will keep the hype down in the city too.

Some may see Dublin-Kerry as a dream final but Kilkenny and Tipperary is a dream hurling final. When I was growing up they were the two names that were to the fore and there is something about them. It is a classic final.

Kilkenny are a wounded animal and Brian Cody doesn’t do defeat too well. They are a very determined outfit and even with a bit of transition on the panel they still have their key players to call on.

Having said that, Tipperary’s confidence is so good now. When they were trying to make the breakthrough you always wondered would they have the capacity to knock Kilkenny off their perch and that first one was always going to be the hardest one to win.

Losing in 2009 and coming back last year gives Tipperary a big boost but Kilkenny will not have liked that and it will be one hell of battle on Sunday. You would have to say, with my limited knowledge, that there will be more desire in Kilkenny, and I think they will get their All-Ireland crown back.