Posted by Mickey Harte
Friday 31 August 2012
Watching Donegal last weekend, the memories of 2003 and ourselves against Kerry came flooding back to me.
We were the new team on the block at that stage up against the traditionalists and championship experts. And we upset all the odds by imposing our gameplan on them.
There were parallels last Sunday. A lot of people had looked at Cork and the strength they possessed all over the field, the experience and guile they had and most expected them to be able to deal with Donegal and nudge ahead in the end.
But the reality was completely different and Donegal blitzed Cork by imposing their game on them and putting them on the back foot very early on. Even though there was only a point between them at half-time the Munster champions were hanging on and that was strange because a lot of people thought that it would be Donegal pushing themselves to the limit to stay with their opponents.
But that was not the case because Donegal took complete control in the second half. I thought that a goal would be needed to win the game but that was not the case when Donegal were able to move five points ahead.
They proved that they are a very good side who have put in an awful lot of work, trust each other and fear no one. I must say I didn’t feel they would be able to beat Cork at this stage of their development.
But I also felt they got horribly unfavourable press last year on the back of one game only. It was strange that they picked up most of the bad press after that semi-final with Dublin because they always say it takes two to tango.
I think it was unfair to them and that game was not reflective of the progress they were making so they will be well satisfied at this stage with where they are.
They will find out who they will meet in the final on Sunday evening and the closer the game gets the more you start to believe that Mayo could upset Dublin. Everyone is talking about Andy Moran’s absence and that it makes Dublin a shoo-in to set up a rematch with Jim McGuinness’s side.
That’s dangerous for Dublin. When the pressure is on them to win that’s when they are often at their most vulnerable. When people doubt them that’s when they tend to excel. Mayo have also known for a while that Moran would be absent. It’s not as if it has been foisted upon them and their whole gameplan is suddenly upset.
They’ve known since they played Down that he would be out so they have been able to prepare accordingly. So to say that they have no chance is to overlook the other players in their attack.
Alan Dillon is a very experienced player and has performed on the biggest stage in the past. In Cillian O’Connor they have a young player with huge talent and Jason Doherty has shown over the last few years that he knows where the goals are. Barry Moran is also more than capable of holding his own in midfield so people may say that Mayo are a bit lightweight in the forward line but I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that.
Kevin McLoughlin, for example, plays at wing-forward but he does a lot of defensive work and sweeping up, maybe not to the extent that Mark McHugh does, but he is still capable of getting forward and he has a good left foot on him.
So they are not without their own artillery. And Dublin haven’t been overly impressive this year. People might look at it and say, ‘It’s a positive that they have been able to get this far without needing to give the best of themselves’. That’s true to an extent but then there is the question of whether the form is going to emerge or whether it’s just the case that it’s not there at all.
It looks like a case of second-year syndrome chasing two-in-a-row. There will be a degree of doubt in their own psyche where they begin to wonder if they will be able to produce their A game. If they don’t produce it and Mayo go to Croke Park and play with abandon it could be one of those days again.
Much of this week has been dominated by talk of how Donegal are now the overwhelming favourites to win the All-Ireland and it has overshadowed the build-up to this game to a certain degree.
That may be Donegal’s biggest downfall. They’ve gone from being the underdog and the team in progress for the last 18 months to now being talked about as the best team in the country who’ll defeat whoever comes through the other semi-final.
It’s understandable that they are in that position not just because of their last display but also because Dublin have shown very little since they dismissed Louth and Mayo are not renowned as a great final team.
It’s almost as if Donegal won the All-Ireland when they overcame Cork and McGuiness has to keep everything in check over the next few weeks. He has shown, though, that he is well capable of doing that. It is strange, though, that they have become champions-elect when no one would have predicted that at the start of the season.
I remember in 2003 we had a great mix of younger and older players. We had players who had come through the minors and under-21s and been successful and they knew precious little but success in finals. Then we had Peter Canavan, Chris Lawn, Brian Dooher and the elder statesmen who had been around the block for a while without having made the breakthrough.
The other bonus we had was that it was our near neighbours we were meeting in the final so it was more like a derby game. Those were things that stood to us and Donegal will have to face something quite different when they step out onto the pitch on All-Ireland final day.
We had many reasons to want to win: the rivalry and the prospect that it would be two-nil to Armagh if we didn’t were just a couple of them. So I don’t see an exact parallel to where we found ourselves in 2003 but there are certainly similarities in terms of how both teams made it through to the final.
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