Dubs are the masters of own destiny
Gavin's men must be patient and disciplined to lift Sam
THEY say this is the time of year that the championship heats up. Let's hope so. I am desperately trying not to be cynical in any way but we are now over two months into the championship and we have had witnessed little to get us up out of our seats.
It was a good week to be a Dub with both senior and minors taking home Leinster titles - so the mood is good in the county. So, are Dublin All-Ireland champions elect or can any of other provincial winners or backdoor winners blindside them in the weeks ahead in what hopefully is a great conclusion to this year's championship.
Let's run the rule over the front-runners.
It does not take a rocket scientist to put Dublin at the top of the rankings in the race for Sam.
Not only are they a joy to behold in full flight but they look like they could even get better in the weeks ahead.
Dublin are oozing with confidence and swagger which they can back up at every corner.
I firmly believe this group of players realise they are now on the crest of wave and further more they respect the fact that this is a special group of players.
No hangover from last year's success is evident and these guys are looking to write history.
Not having been asked the hard questions in their Leinster campaign remains the biggest concern going into the All-Ireland Series.
Dublin now know that the blanket defence is on the horizon, with Armagh, Monaghan and Donegal all potential opponents in the coming weeks.
Patience and discipline will be two traits they need to have in abundance to deal with the tactics of an Ulster nature. I am sure the preparation on the training field has already begun.
We still do not know if Mayo have recovered from last year's All-Ireland defeat but their form and attitude would suggest they are still a team that can trouble the Dubs.
As regards pace, mobility and strength they look the next best equipped to match some of Dublin's strengths.
James Horan's team selection in the Connacht Final indicated that he was reverting to his tried and trusted lieutenants.
The big question mark for Mayo is: have they actually improved from last year or has the upward curve levelled out?
They are likely to meet Cork in their quarter-final and it could prove to be a tricky encounter as they will afford the Rebels forward line space to create scores.
Still the Connacht four-in-a-row champions are very organised, driven and have a massive hunger to succeed, I expect they could be back facing their demons on the third Sunday in September.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, writing the Kingdom off and been hoodwinked on stories of malaise earlier in the year is fraught with danger.
Eamon Fitzmaurice has proven himself as one of the best managers in the game. He showed courage and belief when taking on the job knowing that many of their great players of the past decade were in their final furlong. Kerry showed what ability they have when they blew Cork out of the water in the Munster Final.
Kerry were let play football that day and it allowed Declan O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue control and dictate the terms of the game.
Whilst it was a polished performance, I am still not fully convinced yet whether Kerry have all the attributes to deal with the bigger challenges or blanket type defences.
However, Kerry have got a huge break with the draw this year and they will avoid the defensive-minded teams en route to an All-Ireland SFC final.
This will be of a huge advantage to them and if they dispose of Galway or Tipperary, they will not fear Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final.
In the Kingdom they probably only wish that it was a final against Mayo!
Credit must go to Jimmy McGuinness for reinventing his team to win their third Ulster title in four years.
Many questioned their form over the last 18 months in the build-up to this year's championship but they have answered their critics proving they will be a very difficult nut to crack for any opponent. Many are predicting and looking forward to an All-Ireland semi-final clash against Dublin at the end of August in repeat of the 2011 debacle.
Donegal still have a defensive system that cannot be matched by anyone and are extremely difficult to break down. With Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher fit combined with the emergence of Ryan McHugh Odhrán Mac Niallais, they will arrive in Croke Park full of confidence.
The open space of Croke Park will further test their defensive structure and their lack of pace in some key areas could get exposed.
Whilst the Donegal defensive template largely remains unchanged, Dublin have evolved over the last three years and they could prove to be a totally different type of opposition who will be happy to take on Donegal in their own half of the field.
BEST OF THE REST . . .
Monaghan may have lost their provincial decider but they remain a dangerous opponent for anybody under the guidance of Malachy O'Rourke.
They could still emerge as a surprise package in this championship but they look to be on a collision course with the Dubs if they prevail against Kildare.
Cork will bounce back this weekend against Sligo and are a dangerous opponent when they are underdogs.
However, I firmly believe any manager of an All-Ireland contender must know his best 15 at this stage and it does not appear that Brian Cuthbert is in that position.
Cork are hurting at present and will perform better but could fold under pressure again when taking on one of the big guns.
Elsewhere, Armagh will leave an imprint on any team they come across and would relish a crack at Donegal or Dublin if they can progress into the last eight this summer. In conclusion Dublin are the front-runners - they face different challenges in weeks ahead but are in control of their destiny.