Sky Sports GAA analyst Jim McGuinness is pictured at the Sky Sports 2021 Championship launch, where the broadcaster announced their fixtures and an all-star line-up of pundits, commentators and presenters for the season ahead. Sky Sports Arena will be the home of GAA, with a total of 18 fixtures broadcasting on the channel – 12 of which are exclusive to Sky Sports.
Sky Sports GAA analyst Jim McGuinness is pictured at the Sky Sports 2021 Championship launch, where the broadcaster announced their fixtures and an all-star line-up of pundits, commentators and presenters for the season ahead. Sky Sports Arena will be the home of GAA, with a total of 18 fixtures broadcasting on the channel – 12 of which are exclusive to Sky Sports.

McGuinness admires Dublin's art of defending


By John Harrington

Former All-Ireland winning Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, believes Dublin remain ahead of the chasing pack because they’re the most balanced team in the country.

Many column inches have been written about the firepower provided by the likes of Con O’Callaghan, Ciaran Kilkenny, Dean Rock, Niall Scully, Paddy Small, and Cormac Costello.

But McGuinness believes the fact that they’re just as solid in defence as they are explosive in attack is what makes the six-in-a-row champions such a formidable foe.

“I think they've got the best balance between the defensive and attacking aspect of it,” he says.

“It think they're the hardest team to score against in championship football, and I think they're the best set up team. But I don't think they get the credit they deserve for that, because they're so good going forward.

“And obviously a lot of that comes from their goalkeeper, it gives them the platform. Then the half-back line, the midfield, the six forward, they can all get up, score, interchange, kick points, hungry for goals.

“But it's the other part of the game that they're very, very good at as well. I think some of the teams have gone trying to match the offensive side of things, and are leaving themselves open.

“And that's clear from some of the games that are happening right now. So how that's addressed will be interesting.

“Then you've got the personnel issue. You've got brilliant, brilliant defenders from a Dublin point of view as well, that can go toe-to-toe with anybody. They're big, they're strong, they're fast.

“Those one-v-ones don't hurt Dublin as much, even when it is one-v-one. And so they have the personnel, and they have competition within each line of the team defensively as well.

“Whereas other teams, they're trying to get their best six out, after that, they're struggling to get the same quality levels.

“So yeah, Dublin have proven that they're brilliant defensively, and they have proven year-on-year for the last six years that they're the best team going forward.”

Dublin players like Michael Fitzsimons are excellent one-on-one defenders. 
Dublin players like Michael Fitzsimons are excellent one-on-one defenders. 

The manner in which Dublin have evolved into a team that always finds a way to pick their way through a blanket defence has forced other teams to abandon a caution first approach.

Mayo have come closer to Dublin than any other team in recent years because they backed themselves to go toe to toe with them on an individual basis.

But as McGuinness points out, simply being brave enough to attack Dublin and take them on man to man has not yet been a successful tactic either.

“Mayo never beat Dublin,” he says. “Their system only took them so far. Even last year and the year before, it was 35 or 40 minutes of football, but 35 or 40 minutes of football is not going to beat Dublin, it's got to be 80 minutes of football.

“If you're going to go toe to toe with a team that are bigger, stronger, faster and more skilful than you, and have the best goalkeeper the game has ever produced, you've got to beat them in every single department over 80 minutes, that's a difficult task.

“There's even parts of me that thought that if Mayo had a plan B and plan C, even for ten minutes, even for 10 or 15 minutes to mix things up, and then go back to the original plan, then they probably would have got over the line in some of those finals, like in ‘15 and ‘16 in particular.

“Dublin are stealing a march and people are following a philosophy, but the game has to be won as well.

“In my opinion, there is nobody in the country that can go toe to toe with Dublin over the 80 minutes with Dublin at their best and you at their best, and beat them. That's what people are trying to do right now and that's why I'm interested in this championship.

“Is there going to be an outlier? Is there going to be a tweak or certain tweaks for certain periods of time within certain games, that shifts the focus and catches coaches cold for 15 or 20 minutes and then another shift and then back again?

“For me, I think it's something like that, that it's going to take, but without losing your DNA or selling your own value system down the swanny. So all of those bits and pieces set this championship up to be very intriguing.”

Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, celebrates after victory over Dublin in the 2014 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. 
Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, celebrates after victory over Dublin in the 2014 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. 

Donegal play Dublin in the Allianz Football League Division 1 semi-final on Saturday and will once again be without the injured Michael Murphy who is ruled out with a hamstring strain.

McGuinness has been impressed by how his native county coped without their best player in their last two matches against Monaghan and Armagh, but can’t see them claiming championship silverware without him.

“It's a difficult one, he's so integral to the team,” says McGuinness. “He's the spiritual leader to the team as well as the actual leader to the team. The talisman. So I think they've done really well against Armagh and against Monaghan, to dig themselves out of holes.

“When they were in difficult spots, the rest of the lads stepped up to the plate and that was great. Michael Langan scored a couple of brilliant goals. Niall O'Donnell. Patrick McBrearty has been brilliant. So we've a lot of talent at the moment.

“There's definitely a lot of talent in the squad at the moment. Because of that, we've been able to win without him. If we want to put a run together, to have a go at winning the All-Ireland, we're definitely going to need Michael firing on all cylinders.

“Hopefully now, he can just take a breath and get that injury right for championship, and get ready for the first round against Down.”