Keith Barr: Brogan to lead charge as Dublin's firepower looks too much for Lilywhites
AFTER last week's slim pickings, a dozen games this weekend should give the football championship a much needed shot in the arm. Top of the bill for many is the intriguing clash between Dublin and Kildare, both well fancied to be in the shake-up later this summer, but both with something to prove in the meantime.
This is Dublin's first serious test since coughing up the league final, while Kildare could do with claiming a scalp to add that extra bit of belief to their developing squad.
There is the added incentive for Kildare with only Wexford or Carlow standing in the way of a first Leinster title since 2000. The provincial crown might not be flavour of the month, but hunger is a great sauce and silverware would help Kieran McGeeney's cause no end in Kildare.
The same couldn't really be said for Dublin, whose run of Leinster successes almost became a noose around their necks, leaving them badly equipped for the step up in class in August.
For Pat Gilroy's side, as we explained a fortnight ago, this is a double-edged sword. Win and they will have one match against a Division 3 side between now and the All-Ireland quarter-final. Lose and they will benefit from three knockout clashes in the qualifiers, although they would enter that tricky arena on a downer, particularly after the league final loss.
So, are Kildare good enough to beat Dublin? Most people I've spoken to give them a great chance after their impressive display against Meath. The Royals mightn't be any great shakes, but Kildare's power and movement stood out in the quarter-final. They are a hard-working, well-organised side and despite their scoring difficulties, you can sense their collective strength, their togetherness as a team.
Not unlike Jim McGuinness in Donegal, McGeeney will argue that there is far more to his side than organisation and strength, and we can be sure he will not be behind the door reminding his players that, individually and collectively, they are a match for anyone.
Often referred to as being critical to Armagh's success over Kerry in 2002, self-belief is an essential attribute of McGeeney's make-up, which is why there are a lot of people ploughing into them at 9/4 to shade this contest on Sunday.
But it's more than a mind game with McGeeney. He has a very clear philosophy about football and just because it is based on solid defence and high work rate, does not lessen it tactically. Kildare explode out of defence with the ball, but their object is always to move it into the danger area quickly and effectively.
The delivery to the forwards and support play was excellent against Meath and the Kildare manager seems far more concerned about his players creating chances than he does about them converting them.
This approach has got them far. Despite what the begrudgers may say, McGeeney has overseen one of the most successful periods in the county's history.
Yet this is an era of expectation and the time has come for them to make a really big statement -- McGeeney knows this is his side's chance. He understands Dublin football as well as Gilroy and I've no doubt he will have convinced his men they have what it takes.
When we played Kildare we always believed we would beat them, no matter how good they were. I wouldn't have the same confidence against a side fashioned in Geezer's likeness, but having to call it, I'm going with Dublin.
When I drill down -- and taking it that the game will be played on its merits and Dublin don't perform like they did against Meath last year -- I think Dublin's forward unit will swing it.
Johnny Doyle might be the most valuable player in the game so far this season, but as he's a finisher, they are robbing Peter to pay Paul with the tactic of playing him in the middle. It remains McGeeney's biggest gamble and he will need James Kavanagh and Alan Smith to get a better return on the scoreboard to beat Dublin.
Dublin's defence, now also missing Philly McMahon, looks vulnerable and there are question marks over the fitness of Michael Dara Macauley, which strengthens the case for Kildare. However, there is also a doubt about Doyle's hamstring and if he was hampered in any way, it would be a serious blow for the Lilies.
We can't be 100pc sure just how motivated Dublin will be (look at last year's equivalent clash with Meath), but I'm guessing that given the league final embarrassment which reopened old wounds for a lot of the players, they should approach this game in the right frame of mind.
Kildare won't be as wasteful as they were against Meath, but, in a straight shoot-out, I think, with Bernard Brogan leading the charge, Dublin will be the ones standing at the end.
In the other Leinster semi-final, I fancy Wexford to continue another impressive run under Jason Ryan.
Ryan is shrewd enough to understand the pitfalls in this game against a side on a high and backboned by Brendan Murphy.
I expect Wexford, who are 1/10 with the bookies, will want to kill any chance of Carlow growing in self-belief and will go for the jugular early -- as they did against Offaly and Westmeath.
Mayo can prove best in west after taking care of Tribesmen
CONNACHT might be the poor relation at the moment and it's hard to see either Galway or Mayo changing that reality in the short term. A mixed league dented the initial enthusiasm that greeted James Horan's appointment, but they look a notch ahead of a Galway side in transition.
The Tribesmen's All-Ireland U-21 win will come into play down the line, but outside of the fact that this is a derby game, I can't look past a victory for Mayo, whom I fancy to go on and wrestle the Connacht title back from Roscommon.
Up north, I see Tyrone's experience making the difference against Donegal, despite the latter's league victory when they met during the spring.
I was impressed with Tyrone's display against a dogged Monaghan side, particularly up front, where veterans Brian McGuigan and Stephen O'Neill really turned back the clock. A repeat of that performance can unlock Donegal's defence.
Like a lot of GAA punters tomorrow I'll be dabbling in a small qualifier accumulator based on wins for favourites Fermanagh, Laois, Cavan, Meath, Monaghan and Down. I've a hunch Westmeath might upset the odds away to Antrim, while there are question marks over Sligo's chances when travelling to Aughrim, not the easiest of venues.
Sticking with Sligo and the above selections will get you odds of 37/1. If you believe Micko has one last turn of magic in him, then throwing in Wicklow instead will lengthen the accumulator to over 50/1.
I'm hedging, it's your choice.