The weekend’s All-Ireland football qualifiers didn’t deliver all that they promised.
Two of the four games were one-sided, and another, while competitive, was only middling for the quality it produced. But what about the fourth match, the one that had caught most neutrals’ imagination?
Donegal and Kerry were meeting for the first time at championship level, old hands playing against a side that needed to cast aside the negativity it brought to the venue last year if it was to have any chance of winning. Between them they came up with as fine a match as you could wish to see, and wearing different clothes this time, Donegal got the verdict, winning a Croker corker by two points.
Reminiscent of their 2011 clash with Dublin, Donegal oftentimes had 14 men not only behind the ball, but in their own half; but movements were nearly always forward this time and there was no shortage of shots at goal or individual performances to be proud of.
There was more than a touch of luck about the Donegal goal, but in this regard the men from the north-west were no different from Dublin, whose display in the defeat of Laois wasn’t stamped with authority. The champions had to keep playing to the very end, and didn’t impress.
Their manager, Pat Gilroy, is never afraid to make to make the hard and unpopular call; in taking off Bernard Brogan he might just have got it wrong on Saturday. But if it was a mistake, it didn’t come at a price.
Dublin play Mayo in the last four, and going on Saturday’s form would have reason to be wary. Mayo routed Down, kicking goals and points for fun. The men from the west rarely produce two good ‘uns in-a-row at headquarters, but it might be different this time.
And what of Cork, the weekend’s other winners. They took on enigmatic Kildare and won pulling up. They’re a strong physical side, can play more than a bit, and deserve to be favourites to be win out.
While there are arguments for and against continuing with the All-Ireland qualifiers, how could you a replace a programme like the one that’s put on over two days on each August Bank Holiday weekend, the four provincial champions – all successful this time - taking on teams that have been through a rigorous qualifying campaign?