BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT’S been one of the most eagerly-anticipated games of the year – long before it was even confirmed – but now Donegal and Dublin are set for a fascinating All-Ireland semi-final showdown at Croke Park on August 31.
Donegal edged past Armagh on Saturday night, needing late scores by Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty to earn a 1-12 to 1-11 win. Dublin thumped Monaghan 2-22 to 0-11 and the defending champions have advanced with real menace to the semi-finals.
Donegal survived a real scare from Armagh and are now sweating on the fitness of four-time All-Star Karl Lacey, who will have the extent of a hamstring injury sustained on Saturday assessed early this week.
“Karl nicked his hamstring early in the game, but the type of player Karl is he was determined to play on,” Donegal manager Jim
McGuinness told the Donegal News. “The medical team will have a look at it and we’ll do all we can to have him right for the semi-final. Now that we’re over the line, we’ll get it assessed and get the healing process started.”
Lacey is set to have a scan on the injury and while the Four Masters man – the player of the year in 2012 – can be expected to line out in the semi-final, his training participation could be light between now and then.
McGuinness said: “He’s a very influential player for us so we’ll get him looked at quickly and strat the recovery. We’ll do it right anyway and what’s best for the player.”
Donegal have no further injury worries from Saturday’s game which saw them need some late inspiration in the form of those late points by Murphy and McBrearty. An Odhrán MacNiallais goal spurred Donegal into a 1-5 to 0-6 half-time lead, but when a series of misses blotted the copybook a freak Armagh goal by Stefan Campbell swung the pendulum.
Donegal, though, held their nerve.
“When the real threat came and Armagh hit the front we were sharp, clinical and emphatic,” McGuinness said.
Donegal had a number of big performances when it came to the crunch with Murphy playing the captain’s role and providing real leadership.
Eamon McGee was immense again while Frank McGlynn was another who took the game by the scruff of the neck in those late minutes and Rory Kavanagh had a big impact when introduced as a second-half substitute.
And there was Neil Gallagher, lording it again in the capital’s clouds. Armagh had two late chances to force a draw, but Tony Kernan pulled his first effort wide and a second free dropped shot with Gallagher rising to make the catch and hold possession.
Gallagher was on the ball 40 times during the game and had a massive influence on Donegal’s win. His importance has rarely been as pronounced as it was when this game was up for grabs.
With 15 wides to digest, Donegal have plenty to ponder. McGuinness said: “We feel that there is a lot more in us. The dust has settled on this game now and there is a new game to be won.”
That game happens to be agains Dubs, a team that is bordering on having an invincible aura around them.
McGuinness was impressed with the manner in which they swatted Monaghan out of the Championship. The Donegal boss said: “They have a very impressive system. Every one of the forwards is two-footed and they have serious athleticism around the middle of the field.”
The prize now is massive and McGuinness begins three weeks of planning for a game that’s been on the country’s mind for some time now.
His words are spoken firmly and calmly.
McGuinness said: “We will be doing everything in our power to get over the line. We are seventy minutes from an All-Ireland final after all.”