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All-Ireland Championship: Dull Dublin dump dreary Donegal

By John Campbell

Donegal 0-6 Dublin 0-8: Seldom in the long history of the GAA has the Trade Descriptions Act in a sporting context been breached to quite the same extent as it was at Croke Park yesterday.

For generations, the co-relation between sport and entertainment has helped to provide wonderful achievements both individual and collective, more than often a sustained feelgood factor and the inevitable stunning memories.

For the 81,436 fans who had hoped to witness an All-Ireland semi-final laced with skill, flair and panache, having to settle for what was in essence the match from Hell was a grim, undeserved punishment.

Truly, this encounter left a stench that may prove rather difficult to erase. Donegal’s now-familiar obsession with defensive machinations was sadly garnished on this occasion with a level of cynicism and tunnel vision that earned them their just desserts — precisely nothing.

And if Dublin’s limited invention, naivety and elementary errors had threatened to heap more self-inflicted semi-final agony on them, then the defiant manner in which they clambered through the maelstrom of their own emotions in the last 15 minutes to chisel out what at one stage had looked like an improbable victory will perhaps put an element of gloss on what they will take from the torrid endurance test.

A catalogue of damning statistics, some quite incredible, provides graphic evidence as to just why this match will rank as the ultimate horror show.

Dublin did not score from play until the 60th minute, their goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton was their second-highest scorer, they lost Diarmuid Connolly to a red card in the 58th minute that should never have been shown to him and, despite their numerical advantage, Donegal did not score in the last thirty minutes!

Perhaps we should have read the signals even before the action started. Neil Gallagher, Michael Hegarty and Patrick McBrearty were all missing from the published Donegal line-up to be replaced by Eamon McGee, David Walsh and Christy Toye and the match was up and running as fans who had paid hard-earned money were still trying to make sense of the Ulster champions’ line-up.

And with Dublin encountering difficulty in calibrating their minds to the pace of the game, the first-half was a torturous affair; the tone having been set in the early stages when two words dominated everything about the tie — safety first.

By the 25th minute Colm McFadden, Donegal’s best attacker throughout in their one-man forward line, had snapped up the first of his four points to be joined by Ryan Bradley on the score sheet with Bernard Brogan, whose honest toil throughout was admirable, landing a brace of Dublin frees.

By half-time, which could not have some soon enough for the vast majority of fans, Donegal had temporarily forsaken their own territory to tack on a further two points from McFadden and Kevin Cassidy while Dublin still proceeded to wander down blind alleys.

And when McFadden drilled over his third point on the re-start, he ignited the hope that Donegal might suddenly be liberated from their shackles.

Bizarrely, the opposite was to happen. Despite having a view from the mountain-top at 0-5 to 0-2 against a team palpably aching with frustration, Jim McGuinness’s side retreated further into their shell, the loss of Karl Lacey through injury clearly a major handicap.

Suddenly, what had been a tactical stalemate found epic release when substitute Kevin McMenamon offered Dublin their hope of redemption.

But it was not before Brogan from a free and Cluxton from a ‘45’ had trimmed Donegal’s advantage to a threadbare solitary score.

Even then Connolly’s dramatic expulsion — the reaction of Donegal’s Michael Boyle to the former’s push was disgraceful play-acting — suggested that fate was to conspire against the Dubs once again at this stage of the competition.

Not so. With McMenamon riding tackles fearlessly as the tension rose, Brogan battling for every ball and their defence rather more authoritative, Dublin refused to give up on what we all thought was a lost cause.

The inspirational McMenamon barrelled through for a superb point from play and Bryan Cullen whipped over another from a slide-rule Brogan pass to ease Pat Gilroy’s side in front for the first time with thirteen minutes left.

A sense of crisise ngulfed Donegal whose one-dimensional strategy was clearly exposed and their character badly blemished as they were forced into an abject surrender.

When Brogan landed his fourth point from a free five minutes from the end, it was the coup de grace which cemented his team’s rehabilitation as Donegal’s challenge petered out like a bonfire in heavy rain.

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn, A Thompson, K Lacey, K Cassidy (0-1), C Toye, R Kavanagh, M McHugh, D Walsh, R Bradley (0-1), E McGee, C McFadden (0-4, 0-2 frees), M Murphy. Subs: M Boyle for Lacey (41 mins), M Hegarty for Walsh (half-time), M McElhinney for Hegarty (63), P McBrearty for Boyle (66). Yellow cards: Murphy (35 mins), Thompson (65).

Dublin: S Cluxton (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 ‘45’); M Fitzsimmons, R O’Carroll, C O’Sullivan, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan, D Bastick, M D Macauley, P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen (0-1) ; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan (0-4, all frees). Subs: P McMahon for O’Carroll (25 mins), K McManamon (half-time), E O’Gara for McCarthy (60), E Fennell for Bastick (64), McConnell for Flynn (66). Yellow cards: McCarthy (9 mins), Cahill (31), O’Sullivan (50). Red card: Connolly (58).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

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