Kevin McStay: Armagh can upset the odds and turnover Donegal
Last weekend was a quiet one on the football championship front. No thrillers on show but decent enough fare, a serving we are becoming more used to as the years, post 2012, roll by.
It is the era of the defensive system, where every team must have one, and to travel without one will earn the ridicule of those observing your naivety.
It is obvious that, to date, it is becoming more and more difficult to execute the single most exciting offering in the game - to score a goal, swell the onion net, rifle the three-pointer. At all costs stop the goal being scored!
For a welcome change, we got the promise of a very attractive opening championship game between Donegal and Tyrone - the market leaders in super defensive systems that aim to keep things tight.
It turned out to be a reasonable game (if you park the sickening sight of young adults openly goading, physically and verbally abusing each other) and the football was of a good standard.
And despite the country's tightest two defences on show, the game produced two terrific goals.
That is not the norm these days of course and pretty soon we were back to the usual stuff: down in Munster we got Clare v Limerick - goalless and just the one goal when Tipp beat Waterford.
Connacht was not much better: Galway and Roscommon registered a goal each when they played the mighty powers of Leitrim and London respectively.
Ulster took the biscuit: Cavan step out to face Monaghan and again, not a goal to be had; Fermanagh got a three-pointer against Antrim.
And last week we got the new standard football Sunday lunch from Derry and Down - no meat but lots of mash.
Was there even a shot at the goal in that entire game or did I miss one with all the excitement?
Leinster is not immune either: Offaly and Longford opened goalless and Laois versus Kildare last Saturday matched it.
All in all, I make it 14 games played to date and nine games where a goal or less was scored. The really alarming stat is NO goals at all in five of those!
Like the championship structure itself, pretty soon now the Strategic Planning Office in Croke Park is going to have to produce an in-depth paper on the real trends in goal scoring.
Is the rate really falling or is this just a blip?
I'm told there is a definite decrease in goals scored in club championship football across the country and perhaps it is time to trial the first two big suggestions: anybody out there think a goal should be worth four points?
That goals scored in NFL campaigns should attract extra "table points", a la the bonus point for tries scored in rugby.
Just a thought to get the conversation started
There are seven games on offer this weekend but only two, in my opinion, that will ultimately contribute to the national debate on where Sam will rest next September.
First up is the possibility of the game of the championship to date. We had labelled Donegal's opener versus Tyrone as a blockbuster but it never quite got to the level expected. Now, Donegal do battle in the quarter-final and this time they must travel to Armagh.
Of course, Donegal will be keen favourites to win this, but of course Armagh can turn them over. Armagh are defending their honour in their Athletic Grounds, this is Ulster and Armagh has Kieran McGeeney on the sideline to demand every last ounce from his troops.
You think that McGeeney's presence is not significant? Ask the good folk of Kildare if it matters. The former contenders were last 8/last 4 in the All-Ireland Series, and a Division 1 team annually under his management. Contenders most times they faced Dublin in Leinster. These days they are scrapping to steal a draw against Laois and find themselves in Division 3. It matters. McGeeney matters.
But McGeeney will not be the key man on Sunday. Nor any footballer that togs out. No, the man-in-the-middle Dave Coldrick (Meath), will decide most things. Perhaps even who wins.
The investment of time and effort into the techniques required to tackle properly in the modern game remain the greatest focus for both of these teams. Donegal currently tackle better and concede less scorable frees. Armagh are a little behind in their execution of legitimate tackles and may suffer.
Discipline on and off the field will most likely be decisive. Coldrick is the top referee in the country, closely followed by Pádraig Hughes of Armagh who will whistle the Galway - Mayo game a few hours later.
A lot will be expected from both men.
Can Galway beat Mayo? Unlikely but nobody knows for sure. It's ten weeks since Mayo last togged out and after a dull NFL campaign and desperately disappointing end to the 2014 championship, the jury is out. Are Mayo improving, stagnant or going slightly backwards? Sunday will tell all.
But it seems to me, that just now, Galway are unable to match the deep conditioning, hardiness and strength in the tackle that Mayo, we expect, will produce. In most other areas Galway can match Mayo: certainly in midfield and attack but it the aforementioned physical power of the backline that is likely to separate the teams.
But, nobody is sure about any of this. Roll on Sunday.