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Dublin and Kerry confirm their superiority as question mark hangs over Donegal's old guard
And Roscommon shouldn’t forget the remarkable strides they’ve taken.

THE GAA WORLD went into Sunday afternoon with a few important questions. Could Roscommon bring their promising early season form under the bright lights of Croke Park? Would Donegal refine their game plan to end Dublin’s 20-game unbeaten run?

But we also wanted to know if Dublin and Kerry, as the form book suggested, are the best two teams in the country.

Brian Kelly makes a save Colm O'Neill / INPHO Brian Kelly makes a save. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

As it happened, Roscommon and Donegal failed to hit the required pitch and both of them were beaten long before the final whistle sounded in each game.

More importantly, the semi-finals confirmed our suspicions about the old powerhouses. Dublin and Kerry are head and shoulders above the rest.

A closer look at the post-match comments from either camp tells us a lot about their mentalities.

“Towards the end Donegal definitely got a run at us,” Dublin defender Cian O’Sullivan told RTE Sport after the game. “They had a number of opportunities and we’ll be looking back over that over the coming weeks, see if we can shore up a few things.”

“I think we mixed the good and the bad today,” said Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “There were parts of the game where we were very good and there were parts of the game particularly in the second-half when we were sloppy and switched off a bit.”

Despite two comfortable wins, both Fitzmaurice and Jim Gavin will be focusing on how they can improve before they renew acquaintances in the final on 24 April.

Ciaran Kilkenny Colm O'Neill / INPHO Ciaran Kilkenny takes flight. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

It’s an important game. While there will be elements of shadow boxing, it’s entirely realistic that neither side will face another strenuous test until the All-Ireland semi-finals in August.

If they make the last four, the champions of Munster and Leinster will meet in the semi-final. Before today, a Kerry-Dublin showdown looked likely.

After witnessing those semi-final performances, nothing appears more certain.

***

Roscommon have come far

Just like it was important not to get carried away with four straight wins in Division 1, we shouldn’t be overreacting to a blowout defeat to Kerry in Croke Park.

Sure, Roscommon didn’t perform and were second-best all over the field. But the Kingdom have handed out a pasting to plenty of teams in HQ over the years. Roscommon weren’t the first and they certainly won’t be the last.

Will that defeat do damage to the Connacht side? It shouldn’t. Nor should it be forgotten the remarkable strides this team have taken. Their main goal at the start of the year was to stay in Division 1. They did so comfortably and got the bonus of a playoff run-out against Kerry in Croke Park.

Brendan O’Sullivan is tackled by David Kennan and Neil Collins Cathal Noonan / INPHO Brendan O’Sullivan is tackled by David Kennan and Neil Collins. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Kerry’s win was a reminder of what the big teams can do to you on the big stage.

Roscommon haven’t turned into All-Ireland contenders overnight. But they are in Division 1 for a reason and should expect to still be involved in the championship come the August bank holiday weekend.

Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell will have learned a lot from today. The league is over and done with. The focus switches to the Connacht championship. Nothing has changed.

21 not out for Dublin

Over the course of their 21-game unbeaten run, Dublin endured plenty of stiff tests. But the last team to beat Jim Gavin’s side in a competitive game never threatened to repeat their win today.

Dublin look like they’ve become comfortable with patiently dismantling a blanket defence. They don’t force it, they just keep hammering on the door until it breaks down.

Bernard Brogan scores a goal Cathal Noonan / INPHO Bernard Brogan scores a goal. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

It’s often said about Dublin sides that they live off the oxygen provided by goals, and they could have found the net four times against Donegal. In the end the one goal they did get, provided by Bernard Brogan right after the restart, was enough to suck the life out of Donegal’s challenge.

A steady supply of points followed before they eased off the gas and coasted home.

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The holders were accurate, scoring from 21 of their 29 shots — a 72 percent return. Dublin were not afraid to drop deep in numbers like their opponents, but the big difference between the teams was the speed of their transition from defence to attack.

Ciaran Kilkenny was excellent at wing-forward, deservedly winning TG4′s Man of the Match. Scoring 1-20 without Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara is no mean feat.

Question mark hangs over Donegal’s old guard

Donegal’s defensive system leaked scores today. They shipped 1-20 and multiple goal chances in a very un-Donegal performance.

Three years ago they had the players to execute such an energy-sapping game plan, but at the moment it doesn’t look like they do anymore. Donegal’s lake of pace was plain to see in the second-half and their main stalwarts are not getting any younger.

The Donegal team huddle Colm O'Neill / INPHO The Donegal team huddle before the game. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Just three players scored for Donegal, and only Paddy McBrearty and Martin McIlhinney did so from play. Rory Gallagher’s team failed to deal with a rare off-day from Michael Murphy, who kicked five wides.

Five straight defeats in Division 1 is disheartening, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Donegal don’t open up their Ulster championship campaign until 12 June — still nine weeks away. Given the amount of veterans who are key players in the side, it’s entirely possible that Gallagher has decided to hold off on doing the real fitness work until after the league.

Donegal will view the next six weeks as a key training block to build their capacity to carry out Gallagher’s demanding game-plan. There’s every likelihood that they’ll look like a different team come the summer.

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