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Donegal tear up the script to take place in Croke Park football final

By Declan Bogue

On the third Sunday of September, Donegal will play Kerry in the All-Ireland final, seniors and minors. Wildest dreams stuff, accomplished by two wins over Dublin on a famous day.

In the process, Donegal tore apart all the assumptions that had been stacked on top of each other ever since Dublin overwhelmed Cork in the National League semi-final here.

Perhaps Dublin are not the second half team we all thought they were. Maybe their bench is not the second-best team in Ireland. Certainly, their unrivalled wealth can be overcome.

How they did it? By going against everything we theorised during the week. It leaves them in their second All-Ireland final in three years against Kerry, who finally got the better of Mayo after 170 minutes.

It wasn't just this corner of the earth that felt that if Dublin could go ahead early, then Donegal would be forced into a game where the superiority of the Dubs in pivotal positions would be the telling factor.

After 18 minutes, Cian O'Sullivan collected a short Stephen Cluxton restart. The ball was swept along the field with panache before Alan Brogan laid off for Philly McMahon to score.

That made it 0-7 to 0-2 and with Bernard Brogan fluffing a goal chance, it was heading for a gruesome scene. When Diarmuid Connolly kicked an attempt at the ankles of Paul Durcan after, we braced ourselves for the floodgates to open.

Donegal were fitful. Michael Murphy was not in the game, Michael Fitzsimons had Colm McFadden snug in his back pocket and Neil Gallagher was uncomfortable in an advanced position.

On 26 minutes, Jim McGuinness sent Christy Toye on for the peripheral David Walsh. In the next play, he set up Ryan McHugh for a point.

Odhran MacNiallais scored an impressive point and created another for Murphy.

Then Rory Kavanagh, who had squeezed over an earlier point to atone for two previous misses, hoisted an old-fashioned ball into the square to Murphy. It broke, McFadden snatched the break and scooped to McHugh, whose finish hit the net.

All Donegal needed was the lead. McFadden stretched it to two with a free. There was a sense that Donegal could not keep this insane effort up.

Whatever went down between the walls in Johnstown House during Donegal's recent training camp had a renewing effect. This season they had been a fumbling, unsure version of their 2012 selves.

But in the second half they were sharp, fluid, athletic and their timing was impeccable.

Now, let's not forget a few things. Dublin made this easy enough too. As Aidan O'Rourke perceptively typed out on Twitter afterwards, a counter-attacking game is only effective as it was yesterday with a complicit opponent.

When Durcan aimed long kickouts at Gallagher, McHugh and the rampant Paddy McBrearty were on hand to profit from his flick-ons or breaks. They then sped through the centre with a Ger Brennan-shaped hole in it and made hay on the scoreboard.

Three minutes into the second half they moved four clear. Kavanagh went down the Cusack Stand wing, heading for Hill 16. O'Sullivan was guilty of ball-watching as Anthony Thompson sniped into space. He crossed to McHugh, who wrong footed Cluxton with a two-handed scoop to the net.

All season, Dublin boss Jim Gavin had unloaded dangerous subs with the scent of blood. Now, he was reacting, rather than acting when he sent for Kevin McManamon to reinvigorate their attack.

Dean Rock shortly followed but the daring of Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly in the early stages had evaporated while the influence of both Brogan brothers waned.

The All-Ireland champions had reeled it back to three points when the fate of this game was sealed. A Durcan kickout was flicked on by Kavanagh to Gallagher, while the composed MacNiallais carved out a chance for McFadden to roll to the net.

From then on, the system took over. Dublin would raid forward and run clever angles but were dashed up against the walls of defence. Once the ball was stripped, the tackler would turn inside and find the McGee brothers, Kavanagh or the roving McHugh (below) to transfer it out of traffic and begin to knit patterns together.

Connolly's point on 48 minutes was a display of everything affecting Dublin in the third quarter. It was so hard-fought, you couldn't imagine him wanting to take that kind of punishment again anytime soon.

It actually threatened to turn into a rout when a quickly-taken Lacey free went through Murphy's hands to McHugh who went scampering through and his fizzing shot was turned over the crossbar by Cluxton.

The departing Dubs might have missed 10 progressively-worse second half wides.

Bernard Brogan missed two frees. Cluxton dropped two efforts short, as did Johnny Cooper. The final three wides by Macauley, Connolly and a weak ground shot at goal from McManamon was an illustration of a broken team.

The theory was that Dublin's much-vaunted bench was meant to strengthen them as the game went on, while Donegal's use of subs would weaken them.

That was turned on its head too as Paddy McBrearty hit two crucial points, while Dublin got no real lift from their replacements.

All the hallmarks of time-management was also in evidence as Donegal players began seeking medical attention for mystery sudden ailments. They have nothing to learn.

Kerry, be warned.

DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson, K Lacey 0-1, F McGlynn 0-1; N Gallagher, O MacNiallais 0-1; David Walsh, L McLoone, R McHugh 2-2; R Kavanagh 0-1, M Murphy (Capt) 0-3, 2f, C McFadden 1-3, 2f. Subs: C Toye for Walsh (26m), P McBrearty 0-2, for McLoone (42m), M McElhinney for Kavanagh (59m), D O'Connor for McFadden (64m), M O'Reilly for MacNiallais (67m).

Yellow cards: Gallagher (6m), Murphy (61m). Black cards: N McGee (57m, replaced by Declan Walsh), P McGrath (72m - no subs left).

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, P McMahon 0-1; J McCarthy, J Cooper, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn 0-4, A Brogan 0-2, D Connolly 0-5, 1f; C Costello, E O'Gara, B Brogan 0-3, 1f. Subs: N Devereux for McCaffrey (half-time), K McManamon for Costello (40m), D Rock for O'Gara (46m), P Andrews 0-2 for A Brogan (52m), D Daly for Cooper (61m), P Mannion for C O'Sullivan (67m).Yellow cards: J McCarthy (1m).

Attendance: 81,500.

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

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