If there was ever a year to beat Dublin, this is it, says ex-Donegal boss McGuinness

The All-Ireland winning manager on Dublin and their dominance, Galway, and the battle of Donegal and Tyrone.

JIM MCGUINNESS BELIEVES that six-in-a-row chasing Dublin could be stopped this year — but their dominance will continue “indefinitely” regardless.

brian-fenton-celebrates-with-the-sam-maguire-in-front-of-hill-16 Dublin’s Brian Fenton celebrates five-in-a-row with the Sam Maguire in front of Hill 16. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“If there was ever an opportunity, then this is potentially it,” Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland SFC winning boss concluded when previewing this unique, one-off championship ahead of his return to the Sky Sports analysis hot-seat.

The all-conquering Sky Blues are gearing up for their first championship campaign under the watchful eye of Dessie Farrell, who succeeded Jim Gavin ahead of the 2020 season.

With league wins over Meath and Galway under their belt since the restart, and without two big names in Jack McCaffrey and Diarmaid Connolly, McGuinness is unsure how the next few weeks will pan out.

Many have said that Dublin will be more vulnerable this year, and when that is put to the only manager to beat Gavin’s five-in-a-row side in championship action, he notes that we won’t know that until we get into the white-hot heat of battle.

The departure of Gavin and two big players, the lack of “contact time” Farrell has had and the stop-start Covid-19 impacted season are all factors that come into it, McGuinness says.

“You’ve got a winter championship versus a summer championship. You’ve a Croke Park with no supporters, which is huge for Dublin in normal circumstances. But then the big plus is they know how to win All-Irelands. They know exactly what it takes.

“Everyone’s playing the same way but they’re playing the Dublin way. At the end of the day, it’s their system and I think that’s what’ll give them an advantage in that regard.”

“But Donegal are a very, very good side. Tyrone are a very good side. Kerry are a very good side. You’ve got three teams in Connacht that, on a given day, in this championship will feel that they can beat anybody. There’s Monaghan. 

jim-mcguinness-shakes-hands-with-jim-gavin-after-the-game After that win over Dublin in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“But if there’s ever a year [to beat Dublin], I think you’d have to say it’s this year because Dessie will be very well embedded next year, the staff that he has around him, himself personally getting to know his players, and then all the other things in terms of dealing with Covid.

“It’s a unique championship and it’s one-off, so if there was ever an opportunity then this is potentially it.”

Either way, he expects Dublin to dominate “indefinitely” — and referenced a similar situation he’s experienced first-hand in his colourful coaching career.

McGuinness, who was the mastermind behind Dublin’s last championship defeat, an All-Ireland semi-final loss to Donegal in 2014, explained: “If you look at it through the prism of Celtic and Rangers, you’re not going to see the biggest clubs like Celtic and Rangers at the bottom of the table.

“It’s Celtic and Rangers and one other team that’s having a brilliant season and punching above their weight [at the top] and that’s the reality of the situation. The English Premier League is the same thing and that’s the best league in the world.

“But it’s the same thing, it’s the top teams that are going to be there with the biggest bank balance, the biggest resources and so on and so forth.

“That is just a fact of life that you have to just give credit to Dublin because they were a sleeping giant for a long time in the sense that they were always there and they were there or thereabouts. But they’ve moved from there or thereabouts to expectations of winning the All-Ireland [every year].”

Closer to home, McGuinness is relishing to the winner-takes-all Ulster battle between his former side and Tyrone. Come Sunday evening, Donegal or the Red Hand’s 2020 tilt will be over.

ryan-mchugh-and-tyrones-conor-mckenna Donegal’s Ryan McHugh and Tyrone’s Conor McKenna. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

While the Glenties man was impressed with how Donegal managed the game in their recent five-point league win, he’s well aware of the threat Mickey Harte’s Tyrone pose, seen best through rising star Darragh Canavan “who offers something different” and “the main man” Conor McKenna, who he describes as “a fine, fine athlete.”

He continued: “Donegal have a couple of top quality players like Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh and I think [Shaun] Patton is exceptional, he’s one of the top three ‘keepers in the country.

“With [Oisin] Gallen, [Paddy] McBrearty and Jamie Brennan and Michael, not to mention [Ciaran] Thompson and McHugh coming from deep, there’s a lot of guys there at the end of the food chain who could be really clinical.

“But getting the ball in their hand in the first place is very, very important. They’re keeping the ball well, controlling the game and Michael plays a big part in that. The game has kind of moved away from kicking, it’s more about keeping the ball and I think all the teams are in the same boat. 

While he’ll be keeping an eagle eye on that one on Sunday afternoon, his attention will be firmly on earlier matters in the northern province as his return to the Sky studio comes for the meeting of Cavan and Monaghan on Saturday.

McGuinness predicts it’s going to be “difficult” as Monaghan have more firepower. But in a historically “very feisty and competitive” game, anything could happen.

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Having spent some time with Pádraig Joyce’s Galway a few weeks back — albeit in a one-off capacity — the former Charlotte Independence soccer boss is well placed to share a few thoughts on their chances, too.

While they fell to an embarrassing defeat to Mayo on the restart, the Tribe looked much better against Dublin last weekend with Paul Conroy a central figure in their attack in the absence of talisman Shane Walsh.

jim-mcguinness-returns-to-sky-sports-as-an-expert-analyst-on-the-2020-gaa-senior-football-championship Former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness returns to Sky Sports as an expert analyst on the 2020 GAA Senior Football Championship. Source: SPORTSFILE

“With Galway, they have a very strong kicking game,” McGuinness assesses. “That has been evident the whole way through the league. Before the Covid break, they were playing exceptional football.

“It’s probably going to take Galway that wee bit of time to get back up to the level that they were at. Shane Walsh being injured for a long time, he’s certainly their main man and the quicker they get him back in the jersey the better. I know he came on at the weekend and did well.

“You’d imagine themselves and Mayo will end up in a Connacht final, but Roscommon have been very impressive as well. They’re squeezing a lot of percentages. They’re getting the most out of their men and they’re well-organised, they’re well set up.”

“They have a manager that’s very passionate as well, whether it’s hurling or football, he gets the best out of his players so they will be there in the reckoning in Connacht as well,” he added of Anthony Cunningham, before briefly turning his attention to the business end of proceedings.

“There’s a lot of football there and there’s a lot to be played for in that province and it’s a different dynamic than Ulster totally.

“If you look at Donegal, they’ve got to beat Tyrone, Derry or Armagh and then possibly Monaghan before they get to an All-Ireland semi-final, which theoretically could be Dublin.

“So that is a very, very difficult pathway to an All-Ireland final but the other side of that is, you get there then I would imagine you’d be a very difficult team to beat.”

- Jim McGuinness returns to Sky Sports as an expert analyst on the 2020 senior football championship, starting with Monaghan-Cavan in the Ulster SFC this Saturday.

The42 GAA Weekly is here! Join hosts Shane Dowling and Marc Ó Sé as they preview Tipperary v Limerick, Donegal v Tyrone, and the rest of the weekend’s action:

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

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