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Dublin: 13°C Monday 21 September 2020
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Are we all present and accounted for? Good.

Welcome to our minute-by-minute coverage of this afternoon’s second All-Ireland SFC semi-final as Dublin and Donegal do battle for the right to meet Kerry on the third Sunday in September.

We’ve got just over five minutes to throw-in. I’ll have the teams for you in a quick second.

Dublin: Cluxton; O’Sullivan, O’Carroll, Fitzsimons; McCarthy, Brennan, Nolan; Bastick, Macauley; Flynn, Cahill, Cullen; A Brogan, Connolly, B Brogan.

Donegal: Durcan; McGrath, McGee, McGlynn; Thompson, Lacey, Cassidy; Kavanagh, Gallagher; McHugh, Hegarty, Bradley; McBrearty, Murphy, McFadden.

The mind games begin already, as Donegal boss Jim McGuinness appears to have made three last-second changes to the team which I just posted. Christy Toye, Eamon McGee and David Walsh all start. Paddy McGrath, Michael Hegarty, and Paddy McBrearty all start from the bench.

The anthems are done, the rain appears to be easing, and referee Maurice Deegan gets the action underway. Game on, Ger!

Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton has a chance to kick Dublin’s first point, but his free into the Canal end drifts to the left and wide. As he lined up his effort, the Donegal defenders had no problem getting in his face and letting him know that they were there.

As expected, both teams are defending doggedly in these early exchanges. Donegal defender Anthony Thompson is swarmed by four blue shirts as he tries to field the ball 10 yards from Cluxton’s goal.

With a sea of blue on Hill 16 doing its best to put him off, Michael Murphy kicks Donegal’s first wide from a free.

Seven minutes played in Croker, and it all looks a little bit nervy from both sides. Nobody is getting even a split second on the ball, so the passes and shots are quite erratic. Still no score to either side.

Dublin’s James McCarthy is booked for a rather cynical drag back. Colm McFadden takes over free-taking duties and opens the scoring for Donegal. Donegal 0-01 Dublin 0-00

Oooh, that looked to be a great chance for Bernard Brogan who capitalised on some sloppy defending by Donegal to race through on goal. He dragged his shot wide of Paul Durcan’s post, but Maurice Deegan had already whistled for a free-out so it wouldn’t have counted anyway.

The capacity crowd in Croke Park is making some noise. It must be impossible to hear the referee’s whistle.

Neil McGee is penalised directly in front of his goal after a tussle with Bernard Brogan, and the reigning Footballer of the Year kicks a straightforward point to draw Dublin level. 13 minutes gone, Dublin 0-01 Donegal 0-01.

That’s a disappointing miss by Michael Murphy who puts a kickable free about five or six yards wide.

Bernard Brogan tries to contest a long dropping ball played in by Ger Brennan but there are five Donegal players within a couple of yards of him. Five.

Another wasted opportunity for Donegal as Colm McFadden kicks a 45 wide. That’s their fourth wide of the afternoon so far.

For a neutral, this must be terrible to watch. In fact, for everyone, this must be terrible to watch. But Donegal have restricted Dublin to one point in 20 minutes, so I’m guessing that Jim McGuinness will be happy enough with how things are going.

The amount of pressure that Donegal are putting Dublin under is quite remarkable. No matter how quickly Dublin try to move the ball, or how inventive they try to be, there are yellow jerseys right on top of them.

Ryan Bradley gets the afternoon’s first score from play. It only took 24 minutes, FYI. Donegal 0-02 Dublin 0-01

That might be the key to Dublin’s success — Bernard Brogan gets a jump on his marker to secure possession and draws the foul as he tries to turn and shoot. Donegal don’t look like they’ll take too many chances with him this afternoon. Brogan points the free and we’re level again. Dublin 0-02 Donegal 0-02

That’s not a typo by the way. We have had just four points in 27 minutes.

Wonderful score by Kevin Cassidy, Donegal’s quarter-final hero. He kicks a beauty off the outside of his boot which drops over Cluxton’s bar. Donegal 0-03 Dublin 0-02

Colm McFadden is looking pretty dangerous when he gets the ball inside the 40. He extends Donegal’s lead to two with a well-taken point from play. Donegal 0-04 Dublin 0-02

Barry Cahill gets a yellow card for flattening Karl Lacey. A little bit of frustration creeping into Dublin’s play as the clock ticks towards half-time.

We’re into the first of three minutes of additional time. Diarmuid Connolly tries to score Dublin’s first point from play but it’s another effort which drops short and bounces wide. I wonder if Pat Gilroy has a Plan B?

This is not looking good for Dublin. Stephen Cluxton has a chance to cut the deficit to one with what is pretty much the final kick of the half, but he can’t hit the target.

HALF TIME: Donegal 0-04 Dublin 0-02

Donegal will be pretty happy with that. Everyone else watching at home has probably changed the channel at this stage. I’ll be back in a few minutes, I just need to try to make some sense of what I’ve just seen.

Ok, this is how it is. Donegal have executed their game plan almost to perfection as far as I can see. They are happy to rely on Murphy, McFadden and a couple of occasional midfield forays to get the points — everyone else is behind the ball, hassling and harrying until the Dubs cough it up. It’s not great to watch, but it looks to be getting the job done at the moment.

For Dublin, the problem is that they are playing right into Donegal’s hands. They are carrying the ball into contact too frequently and they aren’t moving it about quickly enough. The major issue is that their options are quite limited when attacking and, rather than pushing men on in support, the Dubs are happy to snatch at long-range chances.

It’s not working, and it won’t work in the second half. I’d love to hear what Pat Gilroy is saying at the moment.

Dublin’s saving grace is that they are only two points behind. Against any other team, you might expect to claw back that deficit within a couple of second-half minutes, but that’s unlikely to happen today. Rather than try to hand out an unmerciful Tyrone-style beating after the break, they need to concentrate on just getting their noses back in front.

Donegal, on the other hand, will keep doing what they’re doing and try to frustrate and annoy Dublin into taking on more silly shots. It has worked so far, but can it continue?

One change each for the second half: Kevin McMenamin is on to replace Barry Cahill for Dublin, while Donegal’s Michael Hegarty comes on for Christy Toye.

We’re back underway and from the throw-in, Colm McFadden has a glorious goal chance. He’s played in after some great work by Michael Murphy but can’t keep his shot down and fires over the bar. Donegal 0-05 Dublin 0-02

Dublin have started to push an extra player or two on in these opening minutes, but it’s yet to pay any real dividends.

Kevin Cassidy appears to have precious little conception of distance — he’s standing about six or seven yards from Stephen Cluxton as the Dubs keeper lines up a free. It doesn’t bother Cluxton though, who knocks the free over the bar. Donegal 0-05 Dublin 0-3

Marty Boyle comes on to replace the injured Karl Lacey.

A wonderful pointed free by Colm McFadden who swings the point over from out near the right touchline. Donegal 0-06 Dublin 0-03

81, 436 is the official attendance at Croker this afternoon. I think that counts as a sell-out, though you could probably wedge one or two more in if you wanted.

Dublin are losing the head a little bit here, which isn’t helping their cause at all. They’re conceding far too many frees in their desperation to win possession. When they do get it, they’re giving it back far too easily.

Jim McGuinness is absolutely incensed with Cian O’Sullivan’s tackle on Rory Kavanagh. The Donegal bench are signalling that O’Sullivan used his elbow, but the replays show that it wasn’t quite that serious. Maurice Deegan agrees and it’s just yellow for the Dublin corner-back.

Under pressure, Bernard Brogan battles for possession and is rewarded with a free. He points, and Donegal’s lead is reduced to two. Eighteen minutes to play. Donegal 0-06 Dublin 0-04

Cluxton’s 45 splits the posts, much to delight of Hill 16. One-point game. Donegal 0-06 Dublin 0-05

Kevin McMenamin has the ball in the Donegal net, but it won’t count. Referee Maurice Deegan didn’t like the way in which the forward challenged Paul Durcan, causing him to drop the ball. McMenamin looks like he may have been inside the small rectangle as well. Either way, it won’t count.

RED CARD! (Connolly, 58′) A rush of blood to the head for Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly, and he’s sent off by Maurice Deegan. Connolly had just won a free for Dublin 20 yards from the Donegal goal and, in a little bit of afters, he raised his hands and pushed Marty Boyle in the face. He’s gone, and with 12 minutes to play, Dublin are down to 14.

Kevin McMenamin fields the ball and carries it inside the Donegal 20, but slips just as he’s about to pull the trigger. He does well to get back to his feet though, and slots the point to draw Dublin level. Ten minutes to play. Donegal 0-06 Dublin 0-06

A final roll of the dice by Pat Gilroy who switches wing-back James McCarthy with forward Eoghan O’Gara.

O’Gara is immediately at the centre of the action. His shot on goal is brilliantly blocked down but when play is recycled, it is worked to Brian Cullen at the back post and he fires Dublin into the lead. Dublin 0-07 Donegal 0-06

A bit of a let-off for Dublin there. As Michael Fitzsimons scrambled to stop Colm McFadden, he appeared to play the ball with his elbow. It could have been a free-in and a certain point for Donegal, but referee Maurice Deegan decides that the offence was not intentional and play continues. Six minutes to play.

Dublin get a free in an kickable position for a sly tug on Bernard Brogan. Brogan is really fired up, charging towards the Hill and roaring them on. Brogan stands over the free…

…and scores. Dublin 0-08 Donegal 0-06.

Ross McConnell is on to replace the injured Paul Flynn.

Just over two minutes remaining, plus stoppage time. Donegal have only scored twice in this second half, and you can’t help but feel that they’ll need a goal now.

Ryan Bradley is given some medical treatment after a clash with Ross McConnell. The game is stopped for the moment, but we’re into injury time now.

Three minutes of injury time. Donegal have three minutes to save their Championship.

90 seconds to play. Dublin in possession.

A free for Dublin as the clock ticks down, and Stephen Cluxton trots up from the back…

He puts it wide, but the three minutes of injury time are up.

FULL-TIME: Dublin 0-08 Donegal 0-06

And that is it. Maurice Deegan blows for full-time, and it is Dublin who will meet Kerry in the All-Ireland Final on the third Sunday of September.

To describe that as “terrible” is perhaps overly generous, but the last 10 minutes were certainly gripping. In the end, Dublin’s 14 men managed to claw themselves over the line, and they’re back in the All-Ireland final for the first time since 1995.

Perhaps it was a little bit surprising that Donegal didn’t push on for the last few minutes when they had the extra man, but I suppose that wouldn’t really have been in keeping with the game plan that had served them so well to that point.

Dublin weren’t a completely different side in the second half but, helped by the introduction of Kevin McMenamin, they certainly stopped playing into Donegal’s hands to the same extent as they had in the first half.

Remember the date: Sunday 18 September. Dublin v Kerry. The game which, in the last ten minutes, has been repeatedly described as the “football final which GAA fans wanted to see.”

After all, they are the two most successful footballing counties in the country — Kerry with 36 titles and Dublin with 22 — but they haven’t met in the final since Kerry’s 2-12 to 2-08 win in 1985, and the hype is bound to reach fever pitch over the next three weeks.

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy:

“That’s all semi-finals are about, it’s about getting over them.

“We’ve tried a few times over the last few years, and today we had to be really patient and stick to our task. It was a very very difficult game and fair play to Donegal, they made it difficult. But I think we showed great composure and patience to see it out.

We expected it, so we probably weren’t as frustrated as people watching it were. But it was going to be difficult to break down, so we had to be patient.

“I think changing some people helped us as well. Kevin [McMenamim] got a bit more penetration when he came on to the pitch.

“I suppose it [Connolly's sending-off] did change the game, but I think the guys had started to step it up just before that and we were really getting on top of Donegal. There were gaps beginning to appear and we took advantage of that.

And on the all-important meeting with Kerry:

Ah, it’s another game. Dublin-Kerry, a lot is talked about it, but I think it was only really a rivalry in the ’70s when Dublin gave Kerry a fair run of it. We’ll think about it tomorrow.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness:

“I suppose at 0-06 to 0-03 we probably had a chance to go on and win the game, but in fairness, Dublin came back very very strongly and in the end they deserved to win definitely.

“Obviously, Dublin are very advanced in their conditioning and in their development and it kind of came through there at the end. They wore us down today.

The boys have become competitive again, they’ve brought a lot of pride back into the county.

“I don’t think I’m anti-football to be honest with you. This time last year, what we were trying to do was win games and get the team winning games, and I suppose that’s what we’ve decided to do with the team. I don’t make any apologies for that, we don’t feel that we have to make any apologies for that. Our game plan was to try to beat Dublin today.

I would prefer to be winning games and winning championships and winning medals than to be going down in a blaze of glory.

So that’s it from me. Thanks for sticking around for the last couple of hours — to be honest, I’m not sure I could have done it on my own.

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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