The gods like Dublin. Not only are they blessed with having had the best squad and most efficient production lines in their history, they are enjoying it at a time when the combined power of the main traditional rivals in Leinster is at an all-time low.
This year, Dublin launched the extension of their long-time provincial dominance with a 23-point win over Wexford, who went into the championship with a league ranking of 30 (from 32).
That was followed by another canter against Meath, who now suffer from psychological paralysis every time they see the blue jersey. Kildare dared to dream after their league win over Dublin, only to freeze more solidly than an Arctic ice cap in the Leinster final.
And so to the All-Ireland quarter-final draw. Who did Dublin want? Not Mayo, who beat them in last year’s semi-final. Not Armagh, who beat them in the first round of the league and who eliminated Tyrone and Donegal from the championship.
That left Clare or Cork. There was a time when all opposition would much prefer to be paired with Clare, but not anymore.
They are a very competent outfit under Colm Collins, underpinned by a real doggedness, which proved so important in the qualifier wins over Meath and Roscommon.
There’s no doubt about who Dessie Farrell would have wanted in the quarter-final. Bring on Cork, a former superpower, with a talent and identity crisis. Only the luck of the qualifier draw (home to both Louth and Limerick) kept them in the championship.
Six counties who exited in the qualifiers – Tyrone, Monaghan, Donegal, Roscommon, Kildare and Meath – are considerably better than Cork, while there’s a good chance that the Tailteann Cup finalists – Cavan and Westmeath – would have a good chance of beating them too.
That’s the background to Saturday evening’s quarter-final where Dublin are 1/50 to reach the semi-final for a 13th successive year.
It will be a massive surprise if Dublin don’t win easily, in which case the argument will be advanced that the easy passage to a semi-final clash with Kerry or Mayo carries risks.
Like Dublin, Kerry have yet to be asked a single difficult question but it will come against Mayo, who have already had tough games against Galway, Monaghan and Kildare.
So would Dublin be better off with a tougher quarter-final draw? Absolutely not.
You can’t reach the semi-final without winning a quarter-final and whereas Dublin are all but guaranteed to get there it’s a different story for Kerry and Mayo.
Dublin are in the happy position of knowing they will take care of business quite comfortably this evening, prior to settling back tomorrow to watch Kerry and Mayo in what promises to be a real contest.
It will have some benefits for the winners in terms of fine-tuning, but the contention that an easy run to the semi-final can leave a team undercooked is unconvincing.
Dublin are the best example. They haven’t had a tough Leinster campaign for many years, but that hasn’t been in any reflected in their All-Ireland quarter-final performances.
With the exception of 2018, when Tyrone ran them to three points in Omagh in a ‘Super 8s’ game, their winning margins in ten quarter-finals since 2013 have ranged between five and 18 points, settling at an average of over ten points per game.
That’s why Dublin would have been so pleased to draw Cork this time. It greatly reduces the margin for error as Cork did absolutely nothing in the league, Munster Championship or qualifiers to suggest they are even improving, let alone coming anywhere close to troubling Dublin.
This is the perfect game for Dublin, handing them another chance to work on their shape and strategy before putting it forward for real scrutiny in the semi-final. They know how all it all works at this stage, having done it so often for more than a decade.
Their inexplicable dip in the league raised questions about whether the spell had been broken by Mayo last year. The Leinster campaign – where they were much better than last year – suggested it hadn’t, but they are still behind Kerry in the All-Ireland betting.
It’s difficult to rationalise why that is the case. After years of consistent excellence, why is so much significance being placed on a single league campaign and a three-point defeat (after extra-time) in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final?
It looks like a serious outbreak of over-reaction, but then that’s quite common in the GAA.
From a neutral perspective, it’s a pity that Dublin didn’t draw Armagh or Mayo in the quarter-final. Another clash with Mayo would have been especially interesting, while Armagh, who beat Dublin by five points in the league last January, would have been a real test too.
Instead, Cork are coming to Croke Park, knowing that if they keep the losing margin down to less than 10 points, it will be a sign of progress.
Such is the difference between the counties right now.
Even the local Cork media are prepared for the worst. “Cork’s season ends on Saturday. The question is can they take any positives into the winter and on into 2023?” wrote Paul Brennan in The Corkman.
Gaelic Football Premium
When Clare and Sligo convened for a challenge in Dunmore in north Galway late last month, the Banner manager Colm Collins had a proposition for his opposite number Tony McEntee – they’d simulate two penalty shoot-outs, one at half-time, one at full-time.