AS Leinster's 'other half' prepare to battle it out this weekend with the valuable prize of a provincial final appearance on offer down the line, the question dominating the agenda this week is really how good are Kildare?
We're sure of the credentials of Cork, Kerry and, to a certain extent, Tyrone and Dublin, but opinion was mixed in the wake of Kildare's victory last Sunday, with some believing they are incapable of going the distance due to their shortcomings up front, while others feel they're outside contenders for the All-Ireland.
Listening to Joe Brolly on 'The Sunday Game', it was hard to fathom why he gave so little credit to Kildare and Kieran McGeeney for their win over Meath. Personally, I believe the manager has done a remarkable job.
The obvious criticism is Kildare's poor finishing -- and that is accepted -- but there is often the additional dig at McGeeney that he's all about physical preparation and that Kildare's football lacks finesse or intelligence.
This is utter nonsense and the fact that the referee messed up a couple of crucial decisions is actually beside the point. I was very impressed with Kildare last Sunday, particularly how they performed in the second half.
Firstly, their defence was outstanding, something that gets little enough notice, let alone credit. Sure Meath are a limited side, but they were still held to a single point from play in the second half, which, at this level, is first-rate.
Secondly, the manner in which Kildare players supported each other relentlessly as they moved the ball up the field at serious pace was equally impressive; their passing was also top-class, with Johnny Doyle once again excelling in his role out the field.
There was great movement from the Kildare forwards and the Meath defence struggled to cope with the constant pressure. They were shooting at will, but, despite their wides, never dropped the heads. Once Eamonn Callaghan found his range the game was essentially killed off as Meath started to grow increasingly desperate.
Kildare, as they have been doing in the championship in recent years, grew into the game and this side is mentally strong, not something always associated with teams from the county. That in itself can carry them a long way, but can it carry them past Dublin?
At a glance you would fancy Dublin's superior firepower to see them through to the Leinster final and I suspect that will shape most predictions in two weeks' time. However, I believe this contest could be decided as much by hunger for a Leinster title as it will be by individual or collective talent. And this where the speculation gets interesting, because it's hard to know how deep Dublin's desire will be.
If Dublin defeat Kildare they will surely go on to reclaim the Delaney Cup. That will mean one competitive outing against a Division 3 side before the All-Ireland quarter-final, five weeks after the Kildare clash, barring replays.
Sorry, but is this not the kind of precursor to the disasters that befell Dublin against Kerry and Tyrone some years back? Is that gap not simply fraught with danger for Dublin as the bandwagon starts rolling again?
Now, counter that with Kildare's growing need to mark their achievements of the past few years with silverware. I've little doubt McGeeney craves a Leinster title, both as reward for their efforts to date and to help cement the belief within his squad.
It is ridiculous to even think Dublin would wilfully lose against Kildare and their hard-working form wouldn't allow it. But if the Lilies are prepared to go the ultimate distance, then that hunger could have a serious bearing on the outcome of the semi-final.
Should Dublin lose to Kildare, the benefits of three competitive games before the All-Ireland quarter-finals are obvious, regardless of the risks inherent in the qualifiers. And such a scenario might ultimately serve Dublin's All-Ireland ambitions better than another Leinster title, something of a poisoned chalice for the team over the past decade.
The players won't see it that way. They want to win trophies, but, deep down, they know that this is not the contest that will define their season.
Contrast this to Kildare, who are likely to benefit hugely from winning Leinster. That is not to say McGeeney's ambition doesn't extend to September, but it would surely help their overall progress. Unlike Meath last year, who should have lost the Leinster final after blowing away Dublin in the semis, Kildare look like a team whose belief will strengthen if they can progress through the front door.
Perhaps one way of avoiding staleness during the long break after the Leinster final would be to play a round of club championships the following week. I'm sure the respective managers would disagree, but I believe it would be good for the players.
Anyway, I'll suspend judgment on this contest for the time being.
One thing for sure, though, it is probably the most meaningful clash in Leinster for a very long time.
SPECULATION about the prospects of Dublin and Kildare winning Leinster will be like a red rag to a bull for whoever emerges from the other side of the draw.
However, the less fancied sides have to contend with each other first and while this weekend's two Leinster quarter-finals might not receive top billing, there is a lot at stake for the competing sides.
Louth, Westmeath and Wexford were all battling for promotion from Division 3 and, having secured the league crown, Louth -- 1/6 favourites -- should account for an inexperienced Carlow with something to spare.
The other clash between Wexford and Westmeath tomorrow evening should be a much tighter affair. Westmeath disappointed in the Division 3 final against Louth, although star forward Dessie Dolan was missing for that game.
Dolan isn't Westmeath's only injury concern tomorrow and, with home advantage and the benefit of their hurlers also appearing on the same stage, I expect Wexford to progress.
Crucially, Wexford also have a championship game under their belts after hammering Offaly and Jason Ryan seems to have got his team going again in the wake of losing such an influential figure as Matty Forde.
Ryan has impressed me in his time in charge and I fancy him to guide his side back to their second Leinster final in four seasons.
Elsewhere, Donegal must be rightly cheesed off with the criticism they received after the Antrim game, given some of the fare on offer since. Still, they should march on against Cavan's young guns, and I expect Roscommon to survive a nervy test against Leitrim.