Neil McGee confident Donegal can adapt to new challenge
THE rock at the heart of their 2014 All-Ireland semi-final win, Donegal full-back Neil McGee feels their locker still contains the something different they will need get past Dublin should they meet again in the summer.
The two sides have become regular foes since their infamous 2011 meeting in Croke Park, which Dublin won before going on to collect Sam Maguire for the first time in 16 years.
Their most famous encounter, though, came when Jim McGuinness constructed a brilliant counter-attacking plan that stunned a team labelled as ‘unbeatable’ in 2014.
Since then, Dublin have embarked on a remarkable sequence, winning 18 of their last 19 league and Championship games. That run was maintained in style as Bernard Brogan’s early second-half goal quickly killed off any hopes a wind-assisted Donegal had of clawing back a five-point half-time deficit.
Dublin’s focus on the defensive side of their game since that 2014 loss was obvious last Sunday as Cian O’Sullivan sat free and they often had a second sweeper. At times, they had 14 men inside their own 65 and they restricted the supply of ball to a full-forward line that contained Michael Murphy for large chunks of the game.
“I suppose they've worked a lot on their game since that day and they haven't lost a game since that day and they've won the league and Championship last year.
“They sat down after that game and they had a good, hard look at themselves and, listen, they're really hard to beat now. I suppose you always have to find something different. That's up to us on the training pitch to find that stuff. We have options - we can playing a running game and a long ball game so we're just going to knuckle down now, get the heads down and hope for a good summer.”
Jim Gavin’s side built a 0-11 to 0-6 half-time lead with the aid of the breeze. It looked at that stage like Rory Kavanagh’s magnificent block from Bernard Brogan’s goalbound effort might have kept Donegal in contention.
But there was nothing to prevent the four-times Allstar forward from getting on the end of Philly McMahon’s wonderful pass and sliding beneath Mark Anthony McGinley moments after the restart.
“It was a lack of concentration by someone and that’s what the Dubs will do. More mentally than physically they test you, you just can’t switch off for two seconds or they’ll pick you off.
“It’s the same with Kerry, any lapses of concentration - you see what they did to Roscommon there in the first-half. We need to get to that level where there’s no lapse of concentration, physically and mentally.
“In the second-half, we probably had a lot of the ball but we were dropping it short and they were picking us off on the counter. It’s not like us at all, usually we’re solid. It’s a bit alarming the way they picked us off.”
One of the few positives that Rory Gallagher will have taken from the game was the performance of young substitute Stephen McBrearty. Eoin McHugh missed the game with a hamstring injury, but his performances were another plus point from the league.
Youngsters like Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Caolan McGonagle, Caolan Ward and Michael Carroll are all aiming for the Championship 26 after their inclusion in the squad at the weekend past.
“A lot of those U21s put their hands up and they will be now again at training,” said McGee.
“It’s a clean slate, the league’s over and we’ll have to draw a line in the sand and move on now. Obviously, we wouldn’t be happy with how the league finished.”
Four defeats in-a-row is a run contrary to even reaching a Division One semi-final, but Donegal squeezed in by virtue of their score difference. Dublin inflicted a fifth consecutive loss, but the experienced Gweedore defender doesn’t see the run as potentially derailing their season.
“We can take positives from every one of those games. There were negatives too, and we have to put the heads down now and work on what came from those games.”