Leinster duo have ability to be strong contenders
In the lead-up to yesterday's Leinster semi-final at Croke Park between Dublin and Kildare, there was a commonly held view that the result was not going to matter very much to either team because they would still be involved come August, when the championship gets serious.
Based on what we saw in the ensuing game, that opinion has probably been proved correct -- but only if we assume that Dublin and Kildare are capable of winning this year's All-Ireland championship, because nothing less will be acceptable for each county.
There were times in this dramatic and extremely exciting game when neither side looked to have that ability, but there were also many facets of a top-class performance from both teams -- which led one to believe that, well, yes, maybe they could become real live contenders for Sam Maguire in September.
However, the very reasons that made this game so exciting and such a pleasure to watch are the same ones that may well prevent any All-Ireland ambitions being achieved this year.
In Dublin's case, there was a terrible loss of composure at several stages in the second half, including 15 minutes when Kildare out-scored them by five points to one and then in the final quarter when Dublin had numerous scoring opportunities to put their opponents out of sight but poor attacking tactics meant they only managed to score three points in the final 15 minutes.
On the plus side for Dublin, which outweighed the negatives overall, there was their refusal to collapse in the crucial final quarter unlike so often before.
Bearing in mind that they were missing one player for most of the second half, it showed enormous courage for Dublin to still have an extra bit of energy and dedication in reserve to push on with a last-gasp point for victory.
From Kildare's perspective, there was great satisfaction in the way they recycled their team after a pretty disastrous original team selection that saw them losing by a staggering six points at half-time and only managing a solitary point, from a free, in the last 23 minutes of the first half, while Dublin scored 1-5 in the same period.
One wonders whether Cork or Kerry would have been more ruthless than Dublin were in that situation. But for Kildare yesterday, the positives also outdid those negatives. Their typically rousing second-half performance could easily have seen them win this game, but that six-point half-time handicap was just too much to overcome when the chips were down.
With the extra man for the second half and the legendary fitness levels that we constantly hear about, one would have expected Kildare to keep storming ahead after their wonderful start to the second half, but instead of that they visibly wilted at times.
Kildare made a lot of changes throughout this game, and it is hard not to think that some confusion was caused by this at different times when critical errors were made -- most crucially in those final 10 minutes when they missed several easy scoring chances, which was at variance with their scoring rate in the third quarter.
Was that due to tiredness or lack of concentration or all the changes in the team line-out?
But for the neutrals in attendance, this was a wonderful afternoon's football and all the players deserve commendation for this. Kildare's poorest section of the game was in the first half when, for some inexplicable reason, they continued to 'hoof' high balls non-stop in on top of the Dublin backline.
They had six attacks in the opening six minutes of the first half, none of which yielded any score -- a very costly luxury as things turned out later on.
Maybe it was in the mistaken belief that late addition Ronan Sweeney would terrorise the Dublin full-back line, but I doubt if many Kildare fans really believed that would happen -- and it didn't.
The selection of relatively inexperienced Ollie Lyons to mark Bernard Brogan was peculiar also and proved to be almost fatal until he was taken off in the first half. He is a fine player but not for this assignment on this day.
But, overall, I reckon Kieran McGeeney will probably not be too disappointed as Kildare head on the Bord Failte trail for the fourth successive season, and while he may not be too worried about winning a Leinster title, it is still a very prized possession in Kildare where they have only taken it home twice in the last 55 years.
So which of these sides at this stage appears to have the best prospects of beating Cork or Kerry, the two front-runners for Sam Maguire this year? A difficult question, because, above all, what yesterday's game showed was that there are some quite serious flaws in both teams.
But it was more vital for Dublin to win on this occasion if only to partially undo the legacy of collapses in big championship games in recent years .
The game should also have ended in a draw as the last so-called foul on Bernard Brogan called by referee Cormac Reilly was a joke, a sick joke in Kildare's case.
But with games being ruined all year by referees awarding Mickey Mouse frees and flashing childish yellow cards, we should not be surprised at an atrocious refereeing decision like this one.
Thankfully, Kildare still have a second chance with a tricky assignment in the qualifiers against Laois.
The placing of Johnny Doyle away from the scoring area proved very costly for Kildare yesterday, and Dublin, as they were perfectly entitled to do, made sure he was hit with some hefty tackles -- some of which certainly proved costly.
But also, the Dublin attack was in a desperate plight in the last quarter with only the two Brogans inside 50 metres most of the time with little or no support.
So both managers and sets of players still have a lot to contemplate as we head for the REAL All-Ireland championship race.