Strong just keep getting stronger
SINCE the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifier series the August Bank Holiday weekend has been regarded as the beginning of real championship action.
This summer, due to a tweaking of the schedule for the qualifiers, only two quarter-finals will be played out, as the round 4B qualifiers will dominate proceedings on Saturday in headquarters.
Over the years, the backdoor has produced plenty of surprise packages, as a team outside the so called top-tier gathered momentum, before stunning a beaten provincial finalist to nail down a coveted spot in the last eight.
With Tipperary and Sligo falling last weekend, it leaves Armagh and Kildare as the flag-bearers for the qualifier system, although you could hardly describe either as a minnow.
While Tipperary, Clare and Sligo could argue as to having made some headway via the scenic route, it is difficult to see where the likes of Carlow, Waterford or Offaly benefitted from additional games, given they each exited the championship at the hands of teams who ply their trade in Division 4 of the league.
The changed qualifier schedule, if anything, appears to have hindered the weaker counties further, and should Meath and Monaghan come through their respective games this weekend, the quarter-final pairings would consist of the teams from each of the provincial finals.
Perhaps the reason that many deem next weekend as the true throw-in for the football title stems from the fact that this is really the only time that teams competing in the top divisions of the league meet on a consistent basis in the run to an All-Ireland final.
In comparison, the hurling championship pits Division one teams against each other pretty much from the get go, providing high quality action far earlier in the summer.
It stands to reason then that for the football championship to try and match this, that the top eight or ten teams need to meet more frequently, perhaps on a league basis, with home and away type fixtures.
Similarly for the next tier, six or eight games against teams that may be marginally better, but that are none the less beatable, would allow them to not only improve, but would provide them with a real chance of marching up the steps of the Hogan Stand in September to get their hands on some silverware.
And while it may not be the All-Ireland medal that all inter-county footballers strive to attain, against a run to the third or fourth round of the qualifiers, it would surely signify real progress.