Donegal and Kerry harden their cases as strong rivals for Dublin
Donegal 1-20 Kerry 1-20
Dublin weren't even involved, but you sense their presence everywhere in this championship as the inevitable question arises all the time: who is best equipped to prevent them winning the five-in-a-row?
It's down to four possible challengers now: Tyrone, who are guaranteed a place in the semi-final, plus two from Donegal, Kerry and Mayo.
Nothing new there, as that quartet were viewed as most likely to put forward the best cases even before the season started.
As respective Munster and Ulster champions, Kerry and Donegal had moved ahead of the other pair in recent weeks, so yesterday's clash was always going to have added intrigue. It didn't disappoint. Indeed, it was a thrilling encounter which gave the impression that a further hour's action still might not have separated them.
Level on 15 occasions and with never more than two points between them, it showed how fascinating football can be when played between two really good teams working off a progressive attitude.
A final scoreline of 1-20 each says it all about the positive approach adopted by both teams. Granted, it also raises questions about their security arrangements, but in fairness the quality of the attacking play made it very difficult for both defences.
Despite that, Kerry's No 4 Tom O'Sullivan was a contender for Man of the Match after doing an outstanding marking job on Jamie Brennan, who had been one of Donegal's highest achievers all season.
He accumulated 2-14 from play in their previous four games, but was held scoreless yesterday, although he did make a significant contribution right at the end when winning a free which Michael Murphy pointed to draw the sides level for the final time.
In addition to curbing Brennan, O'Sullivan made several timely raids upfield, assisting an attack where Paul Geaney, David Clifford, Stephen O'Brien and Killian Spillane scored 1-12 from play between them.
Only 0-4 of Kerry's total came from frees, compared to 1-7 for Donegal, the goal having been fired home by Murphy from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute after Daire Ó Baoill was adjudged to have been fouled.
It was a borderline call by Paddy Neilan, but probably the right one. He was also correct two minutes later when ruling out Eoin McHugh's goal, which if allowed would have put Donegal four points ahead.
Instead they were one clear, a lead which both sides enjoyed on a few occasions from there on before Murphy kicked the equaliser five minutes into stoppage time.
The first-half was equally tight, with the sides level six times before Kerry took a one-point lead (0-10 to 0-9) into the break.
Both sides lost a man to a black card late in the first-half and Kerry finished with 14 men after Tomás Ó Sé, who had been on as a sub for only two minutes, was red-carded late in stoppage time in the second-half.
Donegal held the edge early in the second-half and were two points ahead when Geaney, who was back to the form that made him so effective a few years ago, bolted down the middle and beat Shaun Patton with a shot he would have expected to save.
In fairness, the Donegal keeper did well otherwise, having denied Sean O'Shea a goal in the first-half, while his kick-outs were good. So too were Shane Ryan's at the other end, except for one misfire late on.
In terms of reaching the semi-final it's advantage Kerry, who need only a point away to Meath in the final round to ensure qualification. And since the Royals are out of contention, it's unlikely they will cause Peter Keane's men too many problems.
A draw would also suffice for Donegal against Mayo in Castlebar, but defeat would eliminate them, unless Meath beat Kerry, in which case scoring difference would come into play.
Given that Kerry beat Mayo easily in the first round, Donegal will be quite confident they can book a semi-final place, not least because the westerners' attack isn't as good as the one they faced yesterday.
Indeed, there were times early on when it looked as if the Donegal defence might be completely dismantled.
O'Brien's driving runs, Geaney's ball-winning talents and Clifford's delightful artistry were very difficult to counteract. Stephen McMenamin worked exceptionally hard on the Clifford assignment and did better than many who went before him this season, but the young Kerryman was still a major influence.
Donegal had their stars as well, led by Ryan McHugh, whose hugely energetic performance earned him the Man of the Match award. The timing of his runs and his relentless determination caused Kerry a whole series of problems.
They were without David Moran, who was ruled out with a leg injury, and while his physical presence was missed around midfield, Keane will have been pleased with the manner in which others took on added responsibility.
He will be happy, too, with a lot of other aspects as Kerry build for the season's climax.
Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney 1-4; S O'Shea 0-4 (3f); S O'Brien, K Spillane, D Clifford (1f) 0-3 each; P Murphy, J Foley, T O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy 1-7 (4f, 1-0pen); P McBrearty 0-5 (3f); R McHugh, M Langan, O Gallen 0-2 each; J McGee, N O'Donnell 0-1 each.
Kerry - S Ryan 7; S Enright 7, T O'Sullivan 8, T Morley 7; P Murphy 7, J Foley 7, G Crowley 7, A Spillane 7, D O'Connor 6; S O'Brien 8, S O'Shea 7, G White 6; K Spillane 8, D Clifford 8, P Geaney 9. Subs: J Lyne 6 for White (34 b/c), J Sherwood 7 for O'Connor (44), M Griffin 6 for Enright (56), G O'Sullivan 6 for Crowley (63), M Burns for A Spillane (68), T O Se for K Spillane (72)
Donegal - S Patton 7; C Ward 6, S McMenamin 7, O McFadden Ferry 7; E McHugh 7, E Doherty 7, R McHugh 9; H McFadden 7, J McGee 5; C Thompson 7, N O'Donnell 6, M Langan 7; P McBrearty 7, M Murphy 8, J Brennan 5. Subs: D O Baoill 7 for J McGee (23), O Gallen 8 for O'Donnell (35+1b/c). F McGlynn 7 for McFadden (38), P Brennan 6 for Doherty (47), B McCole 6 for McFadden Ferry (62), L McLoone for Thompson (70).
Ref - P Neilan (Roscommon)