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Naive Donegal on course for revenge

Four years after that 'revolting' semi-final Cassidy says underdogs need only some luck to topple Dublin

By Declan Bogue

It was the game that appalled a generation. A full house in Croke Park was watching Gaelic football, in an All-Ireland semi-final between Donegal and Dublin, but not as they knew it.

Donegal had only one forward; Colm McFadden. Everyone else was a defender.

The score was 0-4 to 0-2 at half-time. Plenty found it intriguing, most found it revolting. But Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher had the ultimate chutzpah in going for it.

Three hours before throw-in, the Donegal squad were called for a meeting in the Ashbourne Hotel. Also present were the backroom team, medical staff and even the bus driver.

Jim McGuinness took out his mobile phone, powered it off, placed it in a bag and instructed everybody else to do the same.

"Right," he said, once that act was complete. "This is the team. And this is the way we're going to beat Dublin."

He set out the terms and conditions and told the players: "This is the way it's going to go. This game could end up four-three, doesn't matter ...

"They'll start kicking crazy wides, the Brogans are going to shoot from anywhere. They're going to get frustrated ... And every time they hit a wide, they'll be reminded that they're not playing Tyrone now."

The teams lined up for the game. Barry Cahill went on Karl Lacey. Dublin were going to use their long-passing game that had torn Tyrone apart in the quarter-final. But then ...

"When Maurice Deegan threw up the ball, Mark McHugh and Ryan Bradley sprinted past me and just sat in front of our full-forward line," recalls Cahill.

"Straight away, two or three seconds into the game, they had two players situated in front of Bernard Brogan in the space so that tactic of ours was gone because they already had their defensive system set up.

"I don't think it mattered to Mark or to Ryan as to whether Donegal won the throw-up or not. Their role was to try and get it back as quickly as possible.

"So that was a strange sight to see. It's not something we'd experienced before."

After 20 minutes, it was one point apiece. By half-time, Donegal had managed to open up a little and get in front, 0-4 to 0-2.

In training, the Dublin team had played a few A versus B team matches, with the B team playing with 17 or 18 players, to try and mimic the Donegal defensive strength. But this was cruelty altogether.

The Donegal dressing room was calm and relaxed. They had them where they wanted. But they had said it would take a goal from them to win it. That opportunity would come along quicker than they could have imagined.

In the Dublin dressing room, Mickey Whelan spoke. Then they broke off into their own lines before Pat Gilroy instructed them for the second half.

"We decided we were going to try to run the ball a lot more, sort of run in groups and clusters," recalls Cahill.

"If you have three or four lads running together, off each other's shoulders so that if you are coming up against a wall of Donegal defenders that you're able to slip maybe a couple of one-twos.

"I think that's the easiest way to take out bodies, to draw them in and play a couple of one-twos and travel together and try and get up the pitch in groups."

In the first minute of the second half, Colm McFadden was released by a Michael Murphy handpass, shimmied past his man, put the head down and made solid contact. But the ball fizzed over, rather than under the bar.

With that deflation, along with the change to Dublin's approach, Donegal seemed to visibly wilt in that second half as Dublin nudged ahead and closed the game out.

"It's definitely an All-Ireland that we let slip," claims Kevin Cassidy who played a key role for Dongal in that encounter. "Had we got past Dublin, we would have beaten Kerry because they wouldn't have been able to handle the way we set up that year.

"We were naive in thinking we had Dublin where we wanted. Colm was through on goal and had he have been just a wee bit lower and it hit the net the game was over.

"We invited Dublin on a wee bit and Cluxton got a few frees and Dublin gained momentum. It just broke us down. I think at that time, after Diarmuid Connolly's sending off, had we pushed Michael Murphy further up the field we would have got a score or two and it would have been too much."

Each game is played on its merits of course, but Cassidy feels even now, four years down the line, that Murphy will have to be used in an advanced position for Donegal to make it past Dublin on Sunday.

"They'll have to," states the Gaoth Dobhair manager.

"Definitely not for the first half an hour or so anyway, because if Donegal start with Michael Murphy up front it will weaken our midfield sector. I think Jim will need him in there to start with these guys like Macauley coming through.

"If we get tight with maybe 40 minutes on the clock I would hope anyway we would then have the confidence to throw Michael up there."

Cahill feels the game will be a moveable feast.

"As the game evolves you'll probably have different trigger points from the manager or messages that he'll be sending on to the team about what he wants to do. But I think that Dublin are pretty mature as a group at this stage. A lot of them are well able to think on their feet," says the St Brigid's man.

Cassidy is not without hope, but plenty rides on luck, as he explains: "I think Donegal have a chance but I'm not going to sit here and say Donegal have better players than Dublin because they don't. But every team is due an off day."

It's the most compelling game in years. Make sure you don't miss it.

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