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Oak Leafers hold no fear as they prepare for Dublin mission

By John Campbell

Like them or loathe them, but don't ignore them. I'm referring to Dublin, of course – who else?

Rarely has any team in the long history of the GAA engendered such a phalanx of emotions – fanatical hero worship, studied admiration, envy, disgust and even hate.

Here is a team captained by someone who flatly refuses to do interviews, managed by a man who publicly eschewed cynical play yet saw his side indulge in the dark arts in clinching an All-Ireland title, rarely if ever are asked to play an important game outside their own back yard and possess enough strength on their bench to field a second string that would beat most full-strength county teams.

The Dubs clearly revel in contradictions but they will be back at Croke Park tomorrow with all guns blazing, intent on shooting down a Derry side with aspirations of landing the Allianz League title for the first time in six years.

They may be the current holders of both the league and All-Ireland titles but Dublin don't spook the Oak Leaf side in the slightest.

Brian McIver received the best possible message of encouragement for tomorrow's second confrontation in six weeks with the metropolitan outfit when he asked his players at half-time during the Dublin v Cork semi-final just who they would like to meet in the final.

"To a man their response was Dublin and that was all I needed to hear," beams McIver.

"That has helped to make training since then more a labour of love than a chore and if anything our morale is even higher now. The fact that the players actually enjoy the rigorous preparations for games of this magnitude tells its own tale."

Forget about last month's meeting between the sides at Celtic Park, Derry, where the home side slalomed to a six-point win.

That counts for nothing in terms of tomorrow's contest in the full glare of a national spotlight – and that's usually the best incentive Dublin can be handed.

They have trundled through the league without Bernard Brogan, the golden boy of their attack, who finally deigned to grace the semi-final against Cork with a cameo role from the substitutes' bench and without the services of centre-half back Ger Brennan.

Diarmuid Connolly has recently been weaving his magic with All-Ireland club champions St Vincent's while Paul Mannion, whose late, late point last year sent Donegal tumbling into Division Two, is nowhere to be seen.

Yet 30-something Alan Brogan is back in the attack, Michael Darragh Macauley operates on a different planet to other players in the country in terms of work-rate, Cian O'Sullivan can find himself deployed anywhere, Paul Flynn quietly and unobtrusively continues to prove the ultimate link man and both Eoghan O'Gara and Kevin McMenamon have successfully devised and patented their own lucrative route one policy.

Throw in the facts that goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton maintains a stoic silence off the field but lets his skills do his talking on the park and that Rory O'Carroll is virtually unheralded yet is one of the top three full-backs in the country (along with Derry's Chrissy McKaigue and Mayo's Ger Cafferkey) and you begin to understand the parts that make Dublin a formidable machine.

They will bid to be their usual arrogant selves tomorrow – and no one but no one will want to miss their inherent ability to transform a mere match into a colourful pageant.

Belfast Telegraph

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