Colm Keys: 'Chasing pack too far back to halt the inevitable - Dublin likely to retain title with degree of comfort'
Style dilemmas and defensive issues remain for all of the protagonists in pursuit of Dublin
The outcome of Donegal's agitation last summer against Dublin playing two of their All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park may, inadvertently, have made the champions' path to an All-Ireland semi-final that little bit easier.
While Donegal failed to have Croke Park ruled out as Dublin's 'home' venue for their quarter-final at Congress earlier this year, it was decided to give all four provincial champions their home game first instead of last, as was the case in 2018.
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Thus, Dublin will play Cork or whichever successful third round qualifier team they draw on Monday morning next in their opening match in Croke Park on July 13/14 and will then meet Roscommon, as Connacht champions, in the 'Croke Park' round a week later.
They may well have qualified for a semi-final without having to put a foot outside the capital which is ironic, given the counter-argument made last summer and again in the lead up to Congress on their occupancy of headquarters twice in the series. At least their round-robin campaign was broken up by a trip to Omagh to play Tyrone last year which was their most taxing challenge of the campaign.
The picture for the 'Super 8s' became much clearer yesterday morning with the third round draw and the certainty over the weekend as to who the beaten provincial finalists are.
Kerry will host Galway or their third round qualifier conquerors with Roscommon welcoming Cavan or the third round qualifier team that beats them to Dr Hyde Park, while Donegal will have Meath or their third round qualifier opponents in Ballybofey.
Half of the 32 teams that took to the starting grid at the beginning of May are out with Monaghan the only heavy hitter to fall by the wayside to date.
On the evidence so far, Dublin are likely to retain their title with a degree of comfort. Every one of the chief protagonists, with the exception of Donegal, have taken a step back and are racked by either dilemmas over style (Tyrone and Galway) or defensive leaks (Kerry and Donegal).
In Mayo's case, the more things change, the more they stay the same, if Saturday night's selection is the right gauge. James Horan returned to quite a few tried-and-trusted personnel.
Dublin's game is in good shape, they didn't concede a goal in the Leinster Championship, though Kildare spurned three good opportunities and while there have been kinks, most evident against Kildare, they look to have tailored to peak nicely for next month.
They have Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock to come back, though James McCarthy's injury on Sunday is a big concern.
Of the next best, Donegal's attacking potential has really shone, especially with Jamie Brennan's progression and Patrick McBrearty's recovery, most evident in the second half on Sunday. But they lost second halves to Tyrone and Cavan by three points each time and shipped 2-11 in the second half last Sunday. Like Donegal, Kerry's defence is a concern, especially when a team runs at them and forces them to turn. Mayo hit them for three goals in the league final, Cork did it again on Saturday night. It may take more than this summer to correct those deficiencies though David Clifford is shaping like it will be another big campaign for him.
Tyrone opted to twist after their defeat to Donegal, essentially leaning heavier on the running game that has served them well, but not just good enough, over the last few years for their trip to Longford over the weekend. Still, Cathal McShane was a threat, scoring both goals.
Roscommon's better defensive shape should ensure a repeat of last year's experience is avoided and their first game at home offers a kinder start.
Of the four provincial finalists, Galway and Meath are licking most wounds. Galway are caught between a rock and a hard place as to how to set up and face a challenge to lift themselves after their Connacht final second half. Pivotal to them is the return of Damien Comer who played 10 minutes for his club last week, his first action in more than six months.
Meath are not helped by history - just four beaten Leinster finalists have reached All-Ireland quarter-finals - or the psychological scar of scoring just four points in a provincial final. Like Galway, they are most vulnerable to anyone coming from Round 3.
Cavan were a little overawed in the early stages of the Ulster final with playmaker Martin Reilly contained but Mickey Graham should know his team a little better for the next day. They have come out of the province relatively intact.
Cork should get the best bounce from the four losers. Reducing the provincial final deficit from 17 to just three points in a year will be uplifting for Cork who can grow in confidence.
Of the rest, Armagh and Kildare should relish their weekend fixtures, especially Armagh who recovered momentum impressively on Saturday night. None of the finalists they can draw in the next round (Armagh can't meet Cavan having played each other in Ulster) will strike fear in them, even Galway.
Opportunity knocks for Clare, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly who paired off in yesterday morning's draw, creating a potential opening for one of them next week with the right draw.