Donegal ready to topple the Kingdom

Updated: Friday, 03 Aug 2012 17:43 | Comments

Doubts stand over Kerry ahead of the clash with in-form Donegal
Doubts stand over Kerry ahead of the clash with in-form Donegal

By Séamus Leonard

That this is the first-ever Championship meeting between these two sides is just one of the fascinating facets of this clash at Croke Park on Sunday.

While Kerry have more All-Ireland and Munster titles than you could shake a stick at, silverware is still a rare and wonderful thing for the players of Donegal to bring home.

There was a clear disparity in celebrations between the Leinster and Ulster finals.

Donegal were overjoyed to have retained the Anglo-Celt for the first time in their history, while Dublin and their supporters would have had to try very hard to look any less enthusiastic about claiming the Delaney Cup for the 51st time.

And while the Donegal camp has admitted provincial success was their biggest goal for the year, it is now clearly being seen as a stepping stone to even greater glory.

It is roundly accepted that the Ulster champions have evolved beyond the stubbornly defensive outfit they were last year.

And while they were subjected to some ridiculous criticism for their style of play, it was clear from Jim McGuinness’ words that they were merely putting the building blocks in place.

The Tír Chonaill men will probably never be most adventurous side to grace a GAA field, but they averaged over 0-18 a game in their four provincial matches this season.

And the manner in which they brushed aside Down on a scoreline of 2-18 to 0-13 in the Ulster decider was clear evidence of how confident they have become in their own ability.

But if Donegal are to repeat their All-Ireland heroics of 1992, they will have to do it the hard way.

Even if they manage to progress past Kerry on Sunday, they will likely still have Cork and Dublin in their way before they get their hands on Sam Maguire. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.

Donegal and McGuinness will have their eyes fixed squarely on the Kingdom, who have the benefit of three impressive qualifier wins under their belt.

Jack O’Connor’s men might have sneaked past Westmeath with the aid of a few questionable refereeing decisions, but they needed no such help to dispose of the challenges of Tyrone and Clare.

The only negative aspect of either victory was the ridiculous decision of Paul Galvin to clothesline Clare’s John Hayes at a point where the result was more than beyond doubt.

The 2009 Footballer of the Year could and should have received a straight red from referee Maurice Deegan, a decision which would have ruled him out of this weekend’s trip to Headquarters and possibly beyond.

But the Laois official opted instead to show a second yellow, and O’Connor has decided to keep Galvin in the starting XV.

But if the Finuge clubman is still struggling to keep his discipline in a non-pressure situation, can he be trusted to maintain his composure in what promises to be a much more physical affair?

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper became Kerry’s top scorer of all time during the victory over the Banner, which at the age of just 29 is an incredible achievement, given the attacking legends his county has produced.

He is still ably assisted by Declan O’Sullivan at centre-forward, while James O’Donoghue is enjoying a fine breakthrough year in the famous green and gold jersey.

But it is hard to escape the feeling that this is a Kerry side in slow decline, while Donegal’s improvement is increasing at a rate of knots.

And with the likes of Michael Murphy, Ryan Bradley and Patrick McBrearty in tremendous form, their momentum should be enough to secure what would be a monumental victory.

Verdict: Donegal

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