By PJ Cunningham
Dublin are flexing their muscles without really showing us the full force of their armoury, while those touted as their chief protagonists seem to be firing blanks.
Without ever over-stretching themselves at Croke Park on Sunday, they disposed of an inept Meath challenge by 16 points.
You sense that it is from here that Jim Gavin will say to his squad: ‘Right, show me what you’ve got from now on’.
With two other provincial finals staged over the past weekend, we expected to see counties put up their hands as real challengers in this five-in-a-row year.
While Tyrone, Mayo and Galway have – for the moment at least – fallen by the wayside, many felt sure that Kerry would be the first to put down a marker – as only Kerry can.
So on Saturday evening, the disappointment in Gaeldom was palpable as Peter Keane’s team showed immense vulnerability against a Division 3 bound Cork team in the Munster final.
With a little more accuracy in front of goals, The Rebels could have caused a shock at Pairc Uí Chaoimh, having driven a stagecoach down the middle of the Kingdom’s defence.
Even more so the fallibility of Kerry’s full-back line under the dropping ball was something that will give Keane some sleepless nights between now and the opening round of the Super 8s.
However, on this showing it appears that this is a case of another one biting the dust in terms of genuine challengers for Dublin to worry about over the coming two months.
And so all we can say at this stage is – Thank God for Donegal.
If such a thing exists, they administered a five-point drubbing while playing a game of ducks and drakes with outclassed Cavan to retain the Ulster title at Clones on Sunday.
They did it with such poise and control that many experts, including former Kerry great Pat Spillane, Meath star Bernard Flynn and Armagh All Ireland winner Oisin McConville, declared them the one team that they rated as having any chance against Dublin in the race for Sam Maguire.
Donegal move into the All-Ireland Super 8s and in boxing parlance, Cavan didn’t win a round or threaten a knock-out at any time.
The Breffni men came into the game with plenty of hoopla surrounding their chances, but it was a case of boys against men as they disappointed in their first showing at this stage of the championship for the first time in 18 years.
Let’s be brutally frank and say this was a mis-match from the word go, with Donegal winning by eight at the break.
It was only when they took their foot of the pedal by emptying the bench to give squad members a run that Cavan got their two goals – the second one in the last minute.
This was a game in which Donegal’s ability to counter Cavan breakdowns from their own defence invariably ended with points at the other end.
The goals were incidental; even Donegal’s when it came on the hour mark from Jamie Brennan had no real meaning on the outcome.
The winners now move into an All-Ireland quarter-final group with Kerry, where they will be joined by Galway or the qualifier team that beats them, and the Leinster loser or the team that beats them in round four of the qualifiers.
What was evident about the new Donegal under Declan Bonner and former Mayo boss Stephen Rochford, the county coach, was how easily they can transition from opponents breakdown in their own territory to kicking or hand-passing scores at the other end.
They have pace to burn with Ryan McHugh and Eoin Bán Gallagher, and the sheer size and football ability of Michael Murphy, Jason McGee and the bulky Paddy McBrearty, not to mention to scoring prowess of Brennan and Ciaran Thompson. They will take some stopping down the line.
They look like a team who understand how to operate and there is no doubt that a game against Dublin, should it arise, would not be the one-sided final that we have sometimes witnessed against less prepared opponents.
However, Dublin have kept many of their stars in cold storage up to now – Dean Rock scoring four points when introduced with 15 minutes to play and Rory O’Carroll’s cameo shows they have top class personnel to bolster their team at either end down the line.
Gavin has been the master in the way he has kept complaceny out of his camp. They have now won nine Leinster titles in a row – a record, and you fancy that there are many more records to come.