Coman Goggins: Failings at core of Mayo defence will stall dream of Sam Muire yet again
IN the traditional sense, after last weekend's round of games we have what would be deemed the four best teams in the country.
For both Dublin and Mayo, a five in-a-row of provincial titles certainly represents teams who are the undoubted masters in Leinster and Connacht, with Mayo's annihilation of Sligo laying down a serious marker that from an attacking point of view at least, the Connacht champions know how to carve out a goal chance or six.
The concession of 2-11 in a game that they dominated from the first whistle, along with two goals they coughed up to Galway in their Connacht semi-final represents a significant weakness in the core of Mayo's defensive set-up and unless rectified could seriously jeopardise the westerners hopes of marching up the steps of the Hogan Stand in September.
Down south, Kerry reaffirmed their dominance over their fierce neighbours and one man in particular, Colm Cooper, reminded Eamonn Fitzmaurice and the rest of country for that matter, that class is permanent.
The modern game has a heavy weighting on physical fitness or more specifically creating athletes that can last the course over 70 minutes, but who may lack the skill or know-how to unlock a defence.
With a speed of thought that the Kingdom forwards were lacking until his arrival, Copper carved open a Cork defence that up until that point had coped admirably with the aerial bombardment that the Kerry midfield had been sending their way, and reaffirmed the belief that skill still separates the great from the good.
While most would have predicted that trio of provincial champions, Monaghan's one-point victory over Rory Gallagher's much-fancied Donegal, is more of a surprise than a shock, demonstrated that in a war of attrition the Farney County are well able to hold their own.
In the last three Ulster finals Donegal have failed to raise a green flag against Malachy O'Rourke's men, and on average Monaghan have restricted the 2012 All-Ireland champions to 12 points over the course of those three deciders.
As they head to Croke Park the next challenge is to transfer their Ulster championship form to the national stage where success would be adding the scalp of a fellow provincial champion en-route to an All-Ireland final.
So with the most recent provincial champions accounted for, what about the best of the rest?
At this stage of the summer experience is a key differentiator between those teams merely operating on life-support and those with a realistic chance of challenging for the Sam Maguire.
Tyrone demonstrated all their championship guile as their defensive set-up swallowed up countless Tipperary attacks as they naively carried ball into the tackle, allowing Mickey Harte's men to turnover possession and hit Tipp hard on the counter-attack.
Seven years on from their last successful march through the backdoor that culminated in a third All-Ireland title in six years, Tyrone certainly won't be found wanting for effort.
While they still should have enough to see of Sligo, the difficulty I foresee for them as the hit the All-Ireland Series is that they appear to be lacking the ruthlessness upfront that Tyrone teams of old had in abundance.
Despite hitting 19 points last Saturday, Tyrone were reliant on defender Peter Harte (0-2) and midfielder Mattie Donnelly (0-3), to guide them over the line. In Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey Tyrone have two rising stars in their inside line, but right now as an attacking unit they appear to lack that potency up front that just might leave them short on replicating 2008.
Galway under Kevin Walsh, while buoyed by their two qualifier victories to date, are still very much a work in progress. Results against Armagh and Derry has lined up a third Ulster opponent in the shape of Donegal, but as with Tyrone their Achilles heel is their inside line, given that in their last two games almost half their their scores have come from the boots of Gary Sice and Paul Conroy who generally operate in the half-forward line.
As for Donegal, the questions around their freshness for another assault at an All-Ireland title are topical again in the wake of their defeat to Monaghan. The likes of Neil Gallagher and former Player of the Year Karl Lacey have considerable mileage on the clock, although in contrast to Galway one of their key strengths is a full-forward line with proven ability to get scores at the very top level.
If the jury is out on Donegal, where Cork sit now is an even bigger conundrum. Their failure to turn up in the second half against Kerry, despite leaving the title behind them the first day out leaves the Rebels seeking answers to their lack of consistency.
If they fail to recover mentally from last weekend, then Jason Ryan's Kildare, who have built a bit of momentum through the qualifiers could turn them over, although the prize of meeting with Dublin is arguably one of the less desirable quarter-final opponents.
Fermanagh and Westmeath will determine the final spot in the All-Ireland Series, but a meeting with Kerry in the last-eight will most likely signal the end for either one of them. In fact despite there being plenty of football left to be played, the provincial system, for all its failings, has still served up the teams most likely to be the last standing when the big prize is handed out.