Three of Dublin's rivals facing trap door
Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone in spring slump
It's easy to identify Gaelic football's numero uno but the three closest challengers to Dublin, for several years, have been Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone.
And now all three are in something of an Allianz League slump. Are these merely teething problems or portents of a summer dip?
Mayo in a mid-league relegation crisis? Nothing new there. They also possess the perfect alibi in that three-fifths of their September '15' didn't even start their latest defeat, to Dublin.
Some pivotal leaders are struggling for form - notably Cillian O'Connor, who was suspended last weekend. But perhaps the biggest fear is that most of Stephen Rochford's back-up personnel have failed to stake a claim for promotion. All of which suggests that Mayo will be relying (again) on the old guard when Galway visit Castlebar for a summer-defining showdown on May 13.
INSIDE VIEW: BILLY JOE PADDEN
"Everyone is losing their heads. And maybe it is time to lose their heads, maybe this season is the actual end … but I don't think you can ever fully know whether that is the case until Mayo get the key players that they're missing back.
"Mayo have about six or seven players in the middle-third that are the engine of the team. And at the minute they are down four or five of those.
"You are taking every bit of pace and power out of that team - and they can't really play without it.
"You are just not getting enough out of the fellas that are replacing them. Until we see those fellas on the field ... and if they still can't cut it, then it's time to really worry."
RESULTS: Monaghan 0-12 Mayo 0-13; Mayo 2-9 Kerry 1-15; Galway 1-13 Mayo 0-11; Mayo 0-12 Dublin 2-10. POSITION: 7th (2pts, score diff -11). FIXTURES: Kildare (a) this Sunday; Tyrone (h) Mar 18; Donegal (a) Mar 25.
Of this 'struggling' trio, Kerry are in the best short-term shape - they've four points banked and at least one of their last three ties (Kildare at home) is eminently winnable.
But if they were to falter there, a last-day trek to Tyrone could be win-or-bust for both.
Kerry's inconsistency is understandable given all the All-Ireland minor graduates earning their senior spurs at the same time.
But the defensive porousness exposed by Mayo last August remains a source of angst. They've leaked seven goals in four games - across all four divisions only Limerick (with eight) eclipse that. It could have been worse; a more ruthless Galway might have hit the net five times last Sunday, not once.
INSIDE VIEW: DARA Ó CINNÉIDE
"I'd be very slow to criticise the young lads on the team. For newcomers, they're actually doing quite well. But I would be asking where are the older lads winning the games?
"It's a mixed bag so far in the sense that you have four points - you could be on zero points! The positives are David Clifford and Seán O'Shea look to the manor born. Yeah, they've a bit to learn - but they will be good in time.
"I think it could be a frustrating year for Kerry in the sense that there's an expectation that these young lads are going to kill all round them, like they did for four years in a row at minor level. And it's not going to happen that quickly."
RESULTS: Kerry 2-18 Donegal 3-14; Mayo 2-9 Kerry 1-15; Monaghan 1-13 Kerry 0-14; Kerry 0-14 Galway 1-14. POSITION: 4th (4pts, score diff -1). FIXTURES: Dublin (a) this Saturday; Kildare (h) Mar 17; Tyrone (a) Mar 25.
Last relegated in 2015, Mickey Harte could be facing a similar grim vista if Tyrone lose their next home fixture with fellow strugglers Donegal.
Donegal prevailed when the sides met 12 days ago in the McKenna Cup final. Include that, and Tyrone have lost on four of the last five weekends.
INSIDE VIEW: PASCAL McCONNELL
"The last thing that we'd like to admit to is the possibility of the hangover from last August ... but the longer the league campaign has gone on, it seems to point more and more to that. A Dublin defeat as catastrophic as it was, it seems to have made more of a lasting impact here.
"We badly need points and it's going to be very tough, looking at the remaining fixtures. This (next match against Donegal) is Tyrone's biggest game of the season, without a doubt. Add in the extra spice of the derby and the rivalry that Tyrone and Donegal have built up over the last few years ...
"My own opinion? Tyrone are badly lacking leaders at the moment. It seems to boil down to the same three or four - ie, Colm Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Ronan McNamee - to lead the thing on. There are players in the team four or five seasons who need to step up to the plate."
RESULTS: Galway 1-9 Tyrone 0-8; Tyrone 1-11 Dublin 2-13; Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16; Monaghan 0-15 Tyrone 0-14. POSITION: 6th (2pts, score diff -9). FIXTURES: Donegal (h) this Saturday; Mayo (a) Mar 18; Kerry (h) Mar 25.