Away from the past week’s disciplinary wranglings, it is time to weigh up this weekend’s semi-finals, and the ultimate destination of Sam.
Taking account of everyone’s performances to date, my crystal ball, for what it’s worth, tells me that following their semi-final victories Kerry will defeat Derry in a largely forgettable and one-sided final.
Now that I have firmly stuck my head on the block, let’s see if I can convince you of my thinking . . .
Firstly, despite their impressive showings this year and growing reputation, under cold analysis Derry have a way to go before being considered top-tier All-Ireland contenders.
Even if they get over Galway next Saturday, which I am tipping them to do, they will have to face a Grade One team in either Kerry or Dublin for the first time under Rory Gallagher.
Ultimately, it looks a step too far.
Teams simply don’t win All-Irelands from a standing start. Even if Tyrone’s victory last year had a smash-and-grab feel to it in retrospect, many of their players had paid their dues in previous years when falling short in finals and semi-finals. Derry still have to pay theirs.
With no Division 1 credentials, or championship pedigree before this year, it would defy all logic for them to go all the way.
Galway are essentially in a similar position, although some of the present team still bear the scars from their semi-final drubbing to Dublin in 2018.
Shane Walsh, Damien Comer, Kieran Molloy and Johnny Heaney are the only present-day players that were trampled over by Jim Gavin’s all-conquering side. So why do Derry get the nod over Galway?
The more I watch Derry this year, the more they remind me of Donegal in 2012. In the aftermath of that All-Ireland win, many observers credited Rory Gallagher as being the brains behind the scenes in Jimmy McGuinness’s dictatorial regime.
That manic attention to detail, and relentless instruction to their chess piece-like players, has an all too familiar feel about it: Olympic levels of vascular fitness underpinning a methodical game-plan; a central spine of pivotal players with staggering levels of consistency.
We have been here before.
Assuming that Gallagher can continue to extract the consistent levels of performance we have seen to date, Galway are simply not on the road long enough to contend with Derry’s style of play.
As Donegal found out post-2012, teams will eventually figure Derry out. The final will prove to be one game too many for them.
On the other side, enough boxes are being ticked in Kerry’s corner that should see them edge out their much-anticipated clash with a resurgent Dublin.
Ignore much of the criticism they shipped for the unconvincing manner in which they defeated Mayo. It seems to be forgotten by most observers that they still beat a side that had contested the last two All-Ireland finals comfortably, and without firing on all cylinders.
David Clifford, while playing in third gear, still accounted for 1-4 along with setting up several other scores for his team-mates.
David Moran made a somewhat surprising return to contention for a midfield berth following a 10-month lay-off.
In 2014, Moran made a similar quarter-final impact against Mayo en route to their last All-Ireland win. Is it to be a case of déjà vu? Jack O’Connor obviously wants some All-Ireland-winning pedigree in his line-up for the closing stages.
The Mayo performance in many ways was the perfect way to prepare for Dublin; if nothing else it will keep complacency away from the Kerry training ground.
Players who underperformed the last day out will be champing at the bit for a starting place against their long-time rivals.
Such a dressing-room atmosphere brings out the best in everyone. Steel sharpens steel.
Dublin for their part are very undercooked heading into Sunday. Despite the impressive formalities of their journey to date, we can’t dismiss their dismal spring as a complete aberration.
Should he even start, Con O’Callaghan, their most pivotal asset, hasn’t felt any real championship white heat so far this year.
And yet, for Dublin backers, he is expected to be the deciding difference, albeit against the tightest defence this year.
As for all Kerry’s attacking attributes, further back is where the groundwork has been done to bring them all the way this year.
Back in February, I watched them mercilessly suffocate Monaghan in Inniskeen.
Then, and all season since, they have been peerless in defence, conceding only two goals all year, one of which against Monaghan shouldn’t have been allowed.
The idea of an Eoin Murchan racing through on goal uninhibited seems unthinkable now against the current Kerry rearguard.
It is such scenarios that have both haunted Kerry over the past few years and driven them to seek higher standards. Standards that see O’Connor back in the Kerry hot seat for one reason, and one reason only. To deliver Kerry a long-overdue All-Ireland.
The time for building is over. It’s now time for them to deliver.