Coman Goggins: Kerry look different class in the race for Sam Maguire
SINCE Kerry handed out that 27-point drubbing to Kildare last weekend, the majority of talk has focused on the ever widening chasm between the top five or six teams and all the rest.
That it took such a trimming for the debate to be kick-started again is the most surprising aspect, as I'm sure if I looked back on my column from this time last year I could copy and paste a criticism of the qualifiers and their ill conceived benefits to the so called weaker counties, that would be as valid today as it was 12 months ago.
If anything I could probably look to make it more topical this time around by drafting a statement blaming some poor unfortunate referee for all the woes of the championship and the predictability of the results over the course of last weekend!
And while it could be argued that such a blame game would be a cop out, in a summer when referees have taken their fair share of criticism, sure another pop off them wouldn't do any harm.
In reality and despite some quiet poor refereeing decisions, more than anything else what last weekend proved is that the key differentiator as the numbers are whittled down, is just how adept those left standing are in having the key components of an effective team performance working in harmony.
Given their showing last Sunday, and despite the best efforts of a former Kingdom great, Eoin 'The Bomber' Liston, to talk down their seven-goal salvo and talk up Jim Gavin's Dublin, Kerry demonstrated that right now they are top of the pile when it comes to the complete team performance.
By this I mean that from their kick-out strategy through their defensive set-up, and into their attack, which is fed by the best midfield pairing in the country, Kerry look to be in great shape to retain their All-Ireland crown.
Add to the mix the influence of their manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who since his appointment has been ruthless in how he has chopped and changed his team as required while also demonstrating a softer side by the way in which he coaxed the likes of Paul Galvin back into the fold, and a picture begins to emerge of how Kerry were able to swat away the Kildare challenge at their ease such was the effectiveness of their team play from the first to last whistle.
If you compare this to Galway, their problem was that although Kevin Walsh had rectified to some degree their defensive frailties, their difficulties had switched to the other end of the field where they were found lacking from an attacking point of view.
If you strip out the New York result two of their half-forwards, Gary Sice and Paul Conway, were their top-scorers as their inside forwards failed to contribute to same level as their opponents last Saturday, whereas between them Donegal's Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and Paddy McBrearty contributed 1-8 of their 3-12 total.
Conversely, Kildare landed in headquarters last Saturday with a forward line that in their three qualifier games had averaged 1-20, and with a midfield partnership that was full of energy, looked primed to cause Kerry some problems defensively. What transpired was that their attack, regardless of its potency, was rendered next to useless as defensively Jason Ryan's team lacked both the pace and the structure to deal with the movement of Kerry's attack that was so excellently led by Colm Cooper.
For a considerable period last Sunday Dublin also offered up a fairly cohesive team performance. However, unlike last year when they landed at the semi-final stage as practically unbeatable, the concession of 2-15 to Fermanagh, not withstanding the quiet laughable decision to allow the Erne County's first goal to stand despite a quiet blatant foul on Stephen Cluxton, will not be lost on either Mayo or Donegal who have both shown a clinical eye for a goal this summer.
One element of Dublin's game that elevates them above almost everyone else is their kickouts, where Cluxton's restarts are down to a fine art at this stage.
If you compare this aspect of Dublin's game to Sligo's last weekend the contrast is stark. When forced to kick long Niall Carew's charges effectively handed Tyrone the impetus to build wave after wave of attack as they lost out in the midfield battle. Cluxton's ability to pick out his man ensures Dublin have a regular supply of clean possession on which to build their attacks regardless of what duo fill the eight and nine jerseys.
Mayo and Monaghan re-enter the frame this weekend but despite their Ulster and Connacht successes both seem short on having all areas functioning to perfection just now.
The Farney County's reliance on Conor McManus for scores leaves them short on attacking potency, while Mayo on the other hand, despite bolstering their attack with the positioning of Aidan O'Shea at full-forward, still have considerable defensive questions to answer.
That said I still give a tentative nod to the respective provincial champions to complete the semi-final line-ups, although along with Dublin, all three have work to do if they hope to stop Kerry going back-to-back and becoming the first county to retain the Sam Maguire since they did it themselves in 2006/07.