What: All Ireland Championship Football Quarter Finals – Phase 1 (Group 2)
Who: Dublin v Donegal
Where: Croke Park, Dublin
When: Saturday, July 14th at 7pm
Odds: Dublin 1/7 Draw 14/1 Donegal 11/2
With the Anglo-Celt Cup accounted for, it feels as if Donegal football is back on the right track. They have been impressively efficient in their four Ulster Championship games and produced a wonderfully professional performance against Fermanagh in the final.
As well as an upturn in results compared to previous seasons, Donegal’s style of play has expanded from the narrowly defined contours of the Rory Gallagher and Jim McGuinness eras. While still committing a lot of bodies to defence, their attack looks far more fluid and unrestricted than it has done in many years.
However, as they head into the make or break element of the All Ireland, Declan Bonner’s side have been stripped of its most potent weapon with the injury to Paddy McBrearty.
No team could withstand the blow that the loss of a player of McBrearty’s quality represents. His absence could be sorely felt in a low scoring, tightly contested game.
And on top of that, they are playing the Kings of Gaelic football in their own backyard.
Much has been made about the decision to grant Dublin two games in Croke Park and there can be no doubt that a neutral venue would have been the preferable option for Donegal.
But Gaelic grounds don’t win games. Dublin have won on the road as well as at home and come Saturday evening, it will rank well down the list of factors that have influenced the outcome.
Dublin are streets ahead of Donegal in terms of their squad development and even though Declan Bonner has had great success in integrating younger players to the senior squad, the gap in quality between them and Dublin remains vast.
Donegal won the Ulster Championship without having to play either Monaghan or Tyrone, inarguably the two other strongest Ulster sides and teams who beat Donegal in the league. As such their pedigree is still up for debate and in Dublin they will have the ultimate test of their All Ireland credentials.
Dublin have had nothing to beat in retaining yet another Leinster Championship. But unlike Donegal, their credentials have been substantiated at every turn. No other team in the country is operating at their level and another All Ireland title seems almost inevitable.
When these sides met in the league at Croke Park Dublin emerged with a five-point win. A repeat of that result seems far more likely than not.
Prediction: Dublin to win by 5+ points