Saturday, March 24
Allianz Football League Division I
Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, 7.15pm
Even this week, we trained one night and will go the same this week because there is going to be an awful lot of work done once the league wraps up and hopefully we will get enough points to stay up.
The battle for places in the semi-finals of Division I of the Allianz Football League resumes this weekend, and Dublin’s clash with Donegal in Croke Park on Saturday evening will provide a great opportunity for both teams to cement their positions in the race for the top four.
It is hard to consider Dublin v Donegal in Croke Park without immediately thinking back to last year’s remarkable GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final clash between the teams, which Dublin eventually won 0-8 to 0-6 in what was one of the lowest scoring but most absorbing Championship duels in living memory.
Donegal’s tactic of a packed defence specialising in intense tackling and marking almost worked until Dublin somehow found a way through in the final 20 minutes, when they were able to pick off enough scores to see them through to the final.
Obviously a League game in March is unlikely to have the same tactical absoluteness that comes to the fore at the latter end of Championship football, so it will be interesting to see on what terms the teams meet at GAA Headquarters.
Both teams have had slip-ups in the League so far, but they have also shown plenty of the quality which landed them silverware in 2011. Dublin’s progress was checked by Down last weekend, that surprising loss in Páirc Esler coming on the back of impressive victories over Laois and Armagh in the previous weekends.
Dublin had looked particularly sparkling in their victory over Armagh a few weeks ago, and one could have been forgiven for expecting an in-form attack to do serious damage to a Down rearguard that had struggled in the League. It didn’t work out like that though, and shorn of the threat of Eoghan O’Gara, Pat Gilroy’s men were not able to match Down’s commitment and hunger to perform in front of their home fans.
Donegal meanwhile, are beginning to look like the force they were in 2011. They were without many of their biggest names for the first rounds of the League and they struggled without them, but since getting the likes of Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden back, they have recorded fine wins over Cork, and last weekend against Mayo. In between those victories, there was a heavy defeat in Kerry, but Jim McGuinness’s men will still be full of confidence heading to Croke Park.
Their victory over Mayo last time out was impressive, as they ended up running away with a game they had been five points behind in early on. They dealt well with the sending-off of midfielder Rory Kavanagh, and there was much to be encouraged by in the way they controlled the game for the entire second half.
Their GAA All Star defender Karl Lacey has been in good form throughout the League and he is looking forward to Saturday’s game but he says Donegal’s priority is simply to get enough points to stay up.
"You always want to go out and win every game but our priority is not based on the league,” he said.
“Even this week, we trained one night and will go the same this week because there is going to be an awful lot of work done once the league wraps up and hopefully we will get enough points to stay up.”
For Dublin, Pat Gilroy knows that with three games still left for them in the League (as a result of the abandoned game with Mayo still to be played) their destiny is in their own hands. The manager spoke this week of the higher standards now required of the All-Ireland champions.
"We need to be better than we were last year, and I think we have gotten a good yardstick already in the league. The reality for us is, we're All-Ireland champions so the only thing that can be a standard for us is to repeat that," he said.
"That's just a fact of life. We are champions so anything less than that won't be at the same level."
With summer now looming large on the agendas of both Dublin and Donegal, seeing each other again on Saturday will be a reminder to both of challenges past and challenges to come.