Dublin v Donegal 2011 reloaded

Malachy Clerkin relives the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Donegal

Malachy Clerkin Fri, Aug 29
LIVE: Dublin v Donegal 2011 reloaded

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  • So this should be fun. We’re liveblogging – sorry, ‘liveblogging’ – a game to which you already know the result and are possibly sick to the gills of hearing about given the week that’s in it. Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Sunday, August 28, 2011. Jeez, that’s a lot of commas.
  • Malachy Clerkin here. We'll throw the ball in at 4pm and take it from there. Until then, there'll be some ultimately pretty pointless preamble
  • It's true, you probably need less of this particular game in your life rather than more. But think of it this way – imagine there wasn’t a replay in Limerick tomorrow and Lee Keegan hadn’t been sent off/blackguarded/cleared/set free.

    Just imagine how much more you’d have heard/read/bored folk with about it without all that going on. See, the GAA can sometimes fall ass-backwards into getting the thing right after all. Or at least there’s a way to paint it as such.
  • And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking why? Why would a man choose to spend a Friday afternoon elbow-deep in such misery? Well, there are all sorts of answers really, most of which would have had Freud speed-dialling his coke guy.
  • But the main reason for doing this is that there are very few Gaelic football games from the past decade that stick out so profoundly and none that have left such a lasting legacy. Quick, top of the head – who was in the other semi-final that year? If you said Mayo and Kerry, well done. Still doesn’t stick in the head like this game does though.
  • In the three years since, I’ve found a real difference in experience between the people who were at the game and those who saw it on TV. Everybody accepts that it was a terrible game, obviously. But the vast, vast majority of people who say, ‘Well, actually I found it fascinating/intriguing/compelling’ were those who were in the ground.
  • For the record, I’m one of those people. In the paper the following day, I said there was “something grimly heroic about Donegal’s cussedness”. Because that’s really how it felt on the day. They were booed after 20 minutes just for handpassing the ball. On some level, you had to admire a team that stuck to their guns the way they did.
  • Are we talking this…
  • The Donegal team face Hill 16 during the national anthem. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
    The Donegal team face Hill 16 during the national anthem. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
  • So let’s do this. The teams…

    DONEGAL: 1 Paul Durcan; 6 Karl Lacey, 17 Eamon McGee, 3 Neil McGee; 7 Kevin Cassidy, 2 Paddy McGrath, 5 Anthony Thompson; 8 Rory Kavanagh, 12 Ryan Bradley; 10 Mark McHugh, 14 Michael Murphy, 24 Christy Toye; 15 Colm McFadden, 20 Declan Walsh, 4 Frank McGlynn.

    You’ll note the ever-so slightly irregular positioning of the Donegal players. Get used to it.

    DUBLIN: 1 Stephen Cluxton; 2 Cian O’Sullivan, 3 Rory O’Carroll, 4 Michael Fitzsimons; 5 James McCarthy, 6 Ger Brennan, 7 Kevin Nolan; 9 Michael Darragh MacAuley, 8 Denis Bastick; 10 Paul Flynn, 11 Barry Cahill, 12 Bryan Cullen; 13 Alan Brogan, 14 Diarmuid Connolly, 15 Bernard Brogan.

    Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

  • A bit of context might be useful here. Dublin hadn’t won an All Ireland semi-final since the last time they’d won an All Ireland. Neither had Donegal for that matter but then they’d only been to one in the interim. Dublin had been to five and walked away with heads hanging each time. Neither side could claim a monopoly on grief.

  • There were 81,436 jammed into Croker and it had been raining steadily since early afternoon. Come 3.30, the ball was in and the game was on…
  • 0:00 We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore when even as the ball was in the air from Maurice Deegan’s throw-in, Mark McHugh, Frank McGlynn and Christy Toye put their heads down and sprinted from their positions in the Donegal forward line back into defence. You actually don’t see it in all its perverse glory on the TV shot. But it was kind of shocking in person.
  • 2:00 Stephen Cluxton comes up for his first free of the day, 47 metres from the Canal End goal. Again, it’s hard to imagine now but Cluxton had only really started doing this that summer so it was a reasonably new tactic on the eyes. Jim McGuinness had a plan in place all the same. There’s Kevin Cassidy waving his arms in front of Cluxton, only about 10 yards away. (Wonder what ever happened to him?) The free slides wide.
  • 4:00 Donegal have set out to make this chaotic and they’re succeeding. As soon as Dublin get on the ball, it’s seven across the full-back line, five across the half-back line. Find a way through if you think you’re hard enough. Diarmuid Connolly gets on the ball right on the endline and is hooshed out over it. Worth remembering he had scored seven points from play against Tyrone in the quarter-final. Not today, Dermo.
  • 5:17 Donegal find their way into the Dublin half. Michael Murphy tries his luck with a free from a similar distance to Cluxton but it falls wide again.
  • 6:00 Dublin are in flitters. They clearly don’t know how to engage with this. And why would they. Mickey Whelan would later say that they trained with 18 against 15 but this was far more complicated a maze to find their way out of. Murphy and Alan Brogan swap wides and we’re still scoreless with eight minutes gone.
  • 8:09 And we have a score! Cherish it, nourish it, make it feel special. It won’t have many friends. Colm McFadden gets it, popping a free into the Hill 16 end. Yellow card for James McCarthy after a high tackle.
    Dublin 0-0 Donegal 0-1.
  • 9:21 Never mind that, we almost have a goal! For once, Bernard Brogan finds himself one on one with Neil McGee and is straight in on goal. But not only does he drag it wide but Deegan gives a free out for a push.
  • 11.53 Dublin get off the mark with a Bernard Brogan free from in front of the posts.
    Dublin 0-1 Donegal 0-1
  • 13:00 The odd thing is that for all that we hailed Donegal’s masterclass at half-time, they made endless errors. They’re all over the place here, dropping passes, kicking it away. It wasn’t just Dublin who didn’t get to the pitch of the game.
  • 15:00 Croke Park is completely silent. It’s the sound of 80,000 people WTFing. Donegal are conceding every kick-out to the Dublin full-back line. Murphy kicks another free wide.
  • 17:01 Dublin are starting to sort themselves out. Since Colm McFadden is the only Donegal forward staying in the Dublin half, there’s room for Dublin’s half-back line to get forward if they so wish. It takes them until the second half to really commit to it but Ger Brennan gives it a go here. It’s a toe-dip, no more. Neil McGee bats down his long ball and Donegal’s weight of numbers deals with it.
  • 19:17 The boos ring out. This was one of the most memorable things about the day. We’ve all heard players booed before, we’ve heard managers get it, referees too. But only on the back of skullduggery of some sort. This was a huge poprtion of the stadium booing a team for handpassing, nothing more. Donegal were fisting it to each other around their own half-back line and the boos rained down, first from the Hill and gradually from the stands. Boos for tactics, just another mad aspect of an increasingly mad day.
  • 22:14 Alan Brogan belts a wide at the Canal End. If he’d lifted his sleeve to reveal a tattoo that said LIFE SUCKS, he couldn’t have more eloquently expressed his frustration and hatred of what was happening. It was all way too much hassle in the castle for Dublin by this stage. Donegal had completed Job One.
  • 25:34 It doesn’t take long for Dublin to find an equaliser though. The crowd are increasingly getting on Deegan’s back and some of the frees are starting to go Dublin’s way. Bernard Brogan taps one over.
    Dublin 0-2 Donegal 0-2
  • 26:20 There’s Philly McMahon on for Rory O’Carroll, who had taken an early knock. Funny the stories that hide in plain sight on a day like this. This was McMahon’s first game back since fracturing his right kneecap against Laois in the Leinster quarter-final. I interviewed him earlier this year and asked him about this match. “Great game to play in,” he said. “Great for me anyway – everything was in front of me and the fella I was meant to be marking spent the whole time in defence.”
  • 28:05 Donegal are starting to enjoy themselves. They’re getting more men forward and passing it around quicker. Frank McGlynn to Murphy to McGlynn to Anthony Thompson to Cassidy and over the bar from 40 metres.
    Dublin 0-2 Donegal 0-3
  • 30:12 Ah, best score of the day so far from Colm McFadden. Really clever sidestep to buy no more than a half-yard of space and over the bar with the outside of his boot. Classy, classy point.
    Dublin 0-2 Donegal 0-4
  • 32:48 It’s around now that you’re thinking, This Is On. Dublin are rattled, Donegal are moving very smoothly. The game is being played on Donegal’s terms and Dublin aren’t coping. Gilroy would say later that they weren’t surprised in the slightest. It didn’t look that way.
  • 35:00 McCarthy and Kevin Nolan have started pushing on now as Dublin cotton onto what they’re up against. But any chances they create are snapshots. Alan Brogan pegs another one wide, Connolly the same. The half ends with Cluxton kicking a free wide.
  • Half-time score: Dublin 0-2 Donegal 0-4

    The teams head off the pitch to a mixture of boos and cheers. The rest of us look around in disbelief. Could they hold out? Could Dublin find some sort of route back into it? Don’t let anyone tell you they knew. None of us did.
  • In keeping with the faux-reality of this set up, I'm away for a cuppa. Back in 10ish.
  • 35:00 And we’re back. Kevin McManamon is on for Dublin. This is worth keeping in mind.
  • 35:17 Oh wow, I had forgotten that McFadden’s goal chance came that early in the second half. Michael Murphy bursts through the Dublin defence, drawing three men to him and leaving McFadden one-on-one with Mick Fitzsimons. A lovely show-and-sidestep gets McFadden in on Cluxton right on the penalty spot. He looks for the roof of the net but the shot goes a couple of feet too high.
    Dublin 0-2 Donegal 0-5
  • Niall Glynn I give you 25 minutes before you say 'f*ck this for a game of soldiers' flounce and give up.
  • Still here Niall. Engrossing stuff now
  • 36:00 Everyone in the stadium had the same thought. That Was The Chance. This was a day when a goal was worth five points. Dublin still hadn’t scored from play at this point – and we were a long way from the point at which they did. It was close to impossible right at that moment to see how they could recover from being 1-4 to 0-2 behind had McFadden’s shot gone in.
  • 40:35 Dublin are pushing on noticeably compared to the first half. Still struggling with their shooting though. Flynn kicks a long one across goal. Dublin’s ninth wide.
  • 41:30 One really noticeable thing three years on is the change in some of the Dublin players. There’s Paul Flynn, kind of slight and fair-haired like he’s just arrive to take your sister to the debs. And Michael Darragh MacAuley looking – and there’s no easy way to say this (certainly none that isn’t hypocritical in the extreme) – borderline pudgy. These boys have become men in the past 36 months.
  • 43:34 Cluxton comes forward for a free after a foul on McManamon. Cassidy stands no more than seven metres away but Cluxton nails it from 42 metres.
    Dublin 0-3 Donegal 0-5
  • 44:25 Huge game-changer as Karl Lacey trudges off, to be replaced by Marty Boyle. Lacey got a knock in the first half but tried to run it off. Ever since that day, where the rest of us have picked McFadden’s missed goal chance as the turning point, any Donegal person you ask points to Lacey going off. Big loss.
  • 45:30 But Donegal score the next point. McFadden kicks a huge free from 45 metres out on the right sideline. It falls inside the near post and Donegal are three ahead again.
    Dublin 0-3 Donegal 0-6.
  • 47:22 This is edgy stuff. Michael Murphy holds onto the ball too long on the Dublin 45 and half the Dublin defence hop on him when he doesn't give the ball back. Murphy stays down for a good minute to kill some clock. So many nerves in the stadium now.
  • 50:13 There are 20 minutes to go and still you wouldn't stick a tenner on Dublin turning this around. Flynn kicks an aimless ball in to be cleared up by Eamonn McGee. McManamon drops one into Paul Durcan's chest. Rory Kavanagh goes down under a heavy challenge from Cian O'Sullivan and Rory Gallagher goes chicken oriental on the Donegal sideline.
  • Steven Miller I could be wrong but didn't McGuinness only reveal that game plan to Donegal that morning in a team meeting? As one writer in the Irish Times said about Tyrone and Armagh in 2003 - another particularly grim battle - the beauty was in the struggle
  • 52:37 Cluxton berates his defenders as he stands over the kick-out, pointing to his temples. Bernard Brogan wins a free and kicks a free. Two in it now.
    Dublin 0-4 Donegal 0-6
  • 54:03 The momentum has started to swing. We didn't know it at the time but Donegal wouldn't score again. Dublin have started to to use the ball better. That said, they get a lucky 45 when the ball deflects out off a Donegal hand. Cluxton is nervelsss with the kick. Margin back to one.
    Dublin 0-5 Donegal 0-6
  • 55:02 The Hill thinks there has been a Dublin goal but Deegan gives a free out for a foul by McManamon on Paul Durcan. The big Donegal keeper lies down to eat up a bit of time.
  • 57:33 Diarmuid Connolly red card! Again, I had forgotten how totally inconsequential this had been. Connolly did really well to win a free down on the 20-metre line and in the jaw-jaw afterwards, Donegal sub Marty Boyle gave him a shoulder to the chest. Connolly pushed back into Boyle's face with his two closed fists but it was nothing. Boyle took a second to think about it and then drop like he'd been harpooned. Dublin down to 14, still trail by one.
  • 59:44 But Dublin come back with their first score from play!. McManamon gets it, sent in by a Bernard Brogan tap-down. The side are all square.
    Dublin 0-6 Donegal 0-6
  • 61:22 Donegal are panicking now. You can see they haven't been here before. They're taking the wild shots that Dublin were in the first half and missing with them.
  • 62:24 Bryan Cullen puts Dublin into the lead. Again, Bernard Brogan is the provider with a great pick-out across the face of goal. Dublin lead by one. Nobody can see a way back for Donegal.
    Dublin 0-7 Donegal 0-6
  • 63:50 McManamon has made a huge difference, running at Donegal defenders and making space for others. It has freed Bernard Brogan up and he's taken full advantage.
  • 64:00 Possible free in front of the posts for Donegal as Fitzsimons falls on the ball. Not given.
  • 67:14 Bernard Brogan pulled down over in the angle between the Cusack and the Hill. He gets up and pops it through the posts.
    Dublin 0-8 Donegal 0-6
  • 68:19 Donegal haven't scored since that huge McFadden free, all of 24 minutes ago. They're not getting enough men forward. Dublin, for the first time all day, look comfortable.
  • 70:00 Another thing I forgot - there was a minute's delay as the clock struck 70 as Ryan Bradley was down with an injury. For some reason, he got booed. As of he was putting it on. Why would he?
  • 71:00 McManamon goal chance! But he taps it at Durcan who can't believe his luck. Donegal clear.
  • 72:12 MacAuley draw a foul down by the top right corner. Cluxton gets his practice in for the final by taking all the time in the world to come up and take it. Kicks it wide but no matter.
  • 73:00 Full Time: Dublin 0-8 Donegal 0-6
  • That really was an engrossing game. Genuinely. You have to wonder sometimes what people want from sport. Moaning that it wasn't easy on the eye missed the point spectacularly. That was pure human drama.
  • Not that I'm going to watch it again, obviously.
  • And so back to Croker on Sunday. To do it all again?
  • Anyway, some post match quotes and then I'm off...
  • “I totally admire them,” said Pat Gilroy. “Totally admire them. Why would you go out and leave a load of space against fellas who kicked 22 points the last day? It was just sensible what they did. You would have to admire them because it’s incredible to get a whole group of players into the sort of shape you need to be in to do what they did for so long today.”
  • And we'll leave the last word to McGuinness...
  • “Everybody’s got an opinion,” he shrugged when asked how it felt to be in charge of team that was getting booed purely for its tactics.

    “It’s irrelevant to us. For 19 years, Donegal teams would have come here and played a certain brand of football that hasn’t served us well. It hasn’t brought rewards to fellas who’ve put in an awful lot of work over those 19 years.
    “We feel now that our lads have a National League medal and an Ulster Championship medal and at 0-6 to 0-3 up (just after half-time), we were at a point where we could have pushed on and made it to an All Ireland final. We need to away now and see can we come back stronger and can we sort out the offensive side of things.
    “The pundits have their opinion, the man in the street has his opinion. My job is to put medals in these players’ pockets. We’ve managed to do that twice this year and nearly made an All Ireland final. We’ll obviously try to improve ourselves over the winter but we won’t be going to Ballybofey and Castlefinn for training next year with the intention of making Pat Spillane feel good. That won’t be our primary objective.”