Don't expect any shocks - Dubs and Lilies for decider
PUT this date in your diary: July 22, 2012. Just shy of seven weeks from now, the footballers of Dublin and Kildare will collide in a Leinster senior final to send pulses racing and pundits into hype overload.
We are, of course, peddling a prediction here that is both presumptuous and provocative. What about Longford and Wexford, not to mention Offaly, Meath and Carlow? How can you decide the combatants of a provincial decider when one of the alleged finalists has participated in one turkey shoot thus far, and the other hasn't played at all?
Fair comment -- up to a point. What about the glorious unpredictability of championship football?
The reality is that major championship shocks are becoming an ever-rarer occurrence as the strong (such as Dublin) get stronger and mid-ranking pretenders (such as Louth) struggle to keep pace.
It is now eight years since Dublin footballers suffered a provincial meltdown in their opening championship match. Losing narrowly to Páidí ó Sé's Westmeath was a shocker for Tommy Lyons' Dubs . . . but not such an outlandish event when viewed through the prism of hindsight.
Dublin weren't in a great place in 2004, after traumatic defeats by Laois and Armagh the previous summer. Westmeath had already ditched one midland monkey from their back by beating Offaly in their opener.
They also had the county's most talented group in its history, one that had reached an All-Ireland quarter-final three years earlier, and now led by a two-time All-Ireland-winning manager.
Fast-forward to Croke Park last Sunday. Not alone have Dublin been elevated to the All-Ireland summit, they have moved on in so many other ways too.
Their levels of power and athleticism are enough to take the breath away. In the opening seconds, when James McCarthy's seemingly textbook 'shoulder' sent Ronan Carroll tumbling into the middle of this week, it was as if referee Eddie Kinsella was lulled by the bone-shuddering power of the hit into believing it had to be a free.
But Dublin aren't all about brute force. Their rapid transfer of possession to their inside assassins -- often via crossfield foot-passes to forwards who expect the ball to come accurately and early -- would have stretched many rearguards to breaking point, even if Louth's defence was there for the taking.
When the Brogans et al are in this type of mood, two-in-a-row doesn't look such an impossible dream after all. This was Dublin's most expansive and fluid display since the quarter-final masterclass against Tyrone last August.
We all know what happened next, against Donegal. At some stage this summer, the likelihood is that a Dublin forward line (including substitute Craig Dias) that tallied 2-18 from play against Louth will hit a rocky patch. Then, Pat Gilroy will have to delve deep into his abundant bench reserves and his squad will be compelled to 'win ugly'.
It's usually then that holders have their All-Ireland mettle fully tested. We await that challenge with eager anticipation but, based on Sunday's double-header evidence, you couldn't back either Wexford or Longford to live with Gilroy's lean machine for the full 70 minutes.
Which brings us back to our opening prediction.
Dublin will fill one of the Leinster final berths, and only one team -- Meath at a push -- can challenge Kildare for the right to join them there.
If it does happen, remember to bring your hard hats!