- Lifestyle & Sports
- 15 Sep 14
We were told Jim Gavin’s men were unstoppable. But Donegal forgot to read the script and took the ‘boys in blue’ to pieces in one of the greatest recent GAA upsets. Where did it go wrong? Your humble columnist is baffled.
SHELL-SHOCKED, stunned, stupefied and unable to believe quite what they’d just witnessed, the sky-blue hordes sat staring into silence, long after the whistle had sounded, to pull the curtain down on Dublin’s 2014 All-Ireland hopes.
It had started brilliantly. Many a ref might have been tempted to stop the fight after about 20 minutes on humanitarian grounds. For the first half-hour, Dublin looked every inch the relentless, remorseless scoring machine they’d been all summer. Donegal’s blanket defence might work wonders at negating opponents’ goal threat, but it is powerless to prevent teams firing over points from 30-40 yard distances, and ten minutes before the break, a five-point lead accurately reflected the balance of play. Indeed, the sense then was that Donegal were blessed to still be in touch, hanging on by their fingertips. Keeper Paul Durcan had already performed heroics, and it looked like being a long and gruelling afternoon for the men from the north-west.
Exactly what happened from that point onwards remains a mystery. I could always watch the re-run, but I’d sooner have my feet sawn off and fed to me. To put it simply, Donegal woke up and proceeded to knock the Dubs senseless, using brainpower, physical ferocity and considerable cunning to engineer what must surely go down as the biggest upset in recent All-Ireland football history.
All summer long, conventional wisdom had it that Dublin were so far ahead of the pack the only humane course of action was to split the county in two to give everybody else some remote semblance of a chance. No sane pundit gave anybody else a prayer of doing anything other than winning the right to act as cannon-fodder on Final day. This state of affairs was reflected in prohibitively lopsided bookies’ odds designed to deter non-millionaires from backing the capital crew, and Donegal (champions two years ago, lest we forget, and a mighty force by any standards) entered the semi-final as the biggest underdogs since wee David prepared to slug it out with Goliath many moons ago.
Attempting to strike a neutral posture for a moment, Foul Play readily concedes that the only upside to Sunday’s debacle was that it exposed the ‘one-party state’ thesis as absolute bullshit. Anybody can beat anybody in a fair contest between two 15-man teams, and the Dubs’ apparent pre-eminence was hardly without precedent. Kerry rattled off seven titles in nine years back in the ’80s: Kilkenny’s hurlers have spent a majority of the 21st century looking down on the rest of the land from a great height, and I don’t recall anyone suggesting we break them up into North and South Kilkenny.
Whatever arguments legitimately arise about top-quality Dub forwards not earning as much playing time as they should due to the unholy competition for starting places, the truth is that most of the ‘Somebody Stop Them!!’ commentary was motivated by anti-Dubs animosity of the sort that is rarely too far from the surface in the national GAA conversation.
Another silver lining is that we now await a Donegal-Kerry final which, let’s be honest, is a titanic prospect – and a very hard one to call. I have pointed out more than once this year that double-figure prices against any Kerry team, in any year, winning the All-Ireland are simply insane and ought to be snapped up without hesitation. Sure enough, the crafty fuckers are still standing in September after two absolutely epic battles with Mayo, both of which would have more than done justice to the Final.
Still, there is no earthly way I can go against Jim McGuinness’s men after the enormity of what they accomplished on Sunday. Like him or not, the Mourinho of the GAA is a genuine once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Although his steely-eyed, unsentimental vision of the beautiful game is wholly at odds with the swashbuckling attack-minded magnificence the Dubs would have brought to the party (one often suspects McGuinness’ perfect game is a 0-1 to 0-0 win with a very late free kick after 70 minutes of grim rearguard defiance) these lads can actually score when they put their minds to it, as their three goals on Sunday amply confirmed. So, Donegal it is.
Before then, after an unseemly wait of almost an entire year, the Martin O’Neill/Roy Keane dream team kicks into life with our first competitive assignment under the new regime, a perilous trek to darkest Georgia. There is a neat symmetry here: in 2008 the Trapattoni era also began with an away fixture against the Georgians, although that one took place in the German town of Mainz after a Russian military incursion rendered Tbilisi too unsafe to stage the fixture. On our last actual visit there (2003: again, Brian Kerr’s first competitive match in charge) Kevin Kilbane narrowly escaped being hit by a knife from the crowd, which had it been a few inches more accurate, might easily have relieved the great man of one of his eyeballs. The pitch was pretty rough, and the crowd less than welcoming, making the entire occasion an endurance test.
The Georgians are no world-beaters – I’ve just scanned their squad and couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of their players – but a cursory inspection of their results confirms that they’re no walkovers on their own turf: they held France to a 0-0 draw during the last World Cup qualifiers, while Spain just about squeezed a 1-0 win with an 86th-minute Soldado strike. On the bright side, they are clearly quite impotent in front of goal, with a grand total of 3 goals in their eight World Cup qualifiers – not the sort of record that will have the recalled Shay Given quaking in his boots. We are not exactly overflowing with goal threat ourselves, and so it is likely to be a low-scoring encounter, in which one goal may well be enough.
I will err on the side of optimism and back us to take the tie 1-0, and to hell with aesthetics. There are 24 tickets up for grabs for France 2018, we start with the same points tally as everyone else, we are hardly inferior to Scotland or Poland on all known form, and we’ve got some serious amends to make after the horrors of Gdansk. Paris, here we come...
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18