Posted by Mickey Harte

With the benefit of better preparation than their weekend opponents Donegal can knock out the championship kingpins

2012 Donegal win

It’s very difficult to predict with complete conviction how any of the games might go this weekend. I think Dublin are in the strongest position as defending All-Ireland champions but the rest of the ties will be close.

Donegal have a great chance of beating Kerry. In the past there would have been a sense of awe of Kerry but the confidence they’ve gained in the last 18 months means that they are no longer in awe of anyone.

They played their football in Division One this year against all the top teams in the country so this Donegal team has serious confidence at the moment. Their preparation has also been better than Kerry’s.

I believe when we played Donegal we were in a better position than when we played Kerry. We had to travel to Killarney and then early on in the game we lost Dermot Carlin who was a key component of our defensive strategy. We also had a man sent off in the wrong so in the last 15 minutes Kerry may have been flattered somewhat by the margin of victory.

With the full compliment we may not have won the game but we certainly would have made it competitive to the end. So, when you weigh up those factors, Donegal will have benefitted more from playing us than Kerry did.

Jim McGuinness’s side also had to play another Division One team in the Ulster final and meeting teams who have a big tradition in the championship is good for them. That game against Down was also close for the first half and early in the second 35 before Donegal eventually pulled away from them.

Kerry’s last match was against Clare and it was a really facile victory for them. I doubt whether they would have learnt much about themselves or whether it was the ideal preparation for them, especially considering the kind of encounter they’re going to face against Donegal.

So, all in all, the Ulster champions look to be the better prepared side and they have improved from last year. Kerry, on the other hand, may not be as good as the last couple of results suggest.

I DON’T THINK it’s fair that the provincial champions don’t get a second chance and that’s something I’ve been saying for years.  

The teams they play in the quarter-finals have had that second chance and have had the chance to build up some momentum. It’s an uneven playing field and it’s something that needs to be addressed.

The provincial champions are very vulnerable at this stage and I think it’s a shame that teams such as Cork are sitting idle for a long time. That’s not to say they will be beaten by Kildare but there is that vulnerability there.

Kildare have had an up-and-down season but they’ve come through some stern tests and ultimately they can consider it a successful one. They won Division Two and had that setback against Meath which was unexpected.

But they’ve regrouped well and once again are on a good run through the qualifiers. Cork, though, have progressed enormously over the last four years and I think they will be able to take the best of what Kildare will throw at them and hold on for a narrow victory.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO see Laois pulling off a shock against Dublin. Pat Gilroy’s side haven’t been that impressive coming through Leinster but they’re still in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

You would have to ask the question if there is a big performance in Dublin just waiting to come out. I think they will be more than happy with the draw they got. They know Laois inside out and have had the Indian sign over them in the last few years.

They are too powerful all over the field and that will be enough to see them through to the semi-final. Laois cannot go toe-to-toe with Dublin and expect to win the game. They will have to set up defensively and hope to frustrate Dublin.

To a degree, that’s what Wexford did and Laois will also take heart from the fact that Meath came back against them. Dublin scored those two goals before half-time that put them in a very strong position but they failed to put Meath away fully.

Justin McNulty’s side will have to prevent Dublin building up a head of steam against them and be very diligent at the back. There is some hope there because of the way Dublin’s championship is going but, ultimately, the champions will be too strong for them and will be in the last four.

MAYO ARE IN the same position as Cork and are probably even more vulnerable as they haven’t really been tested in the championship so far. Yes the game against Sligo was close but the way Kildare dumped out the Connacht side puts a new slant on that.

You’d have to wonder if Sligo just targeted that game against Mayo and then fell away afterwards. James Horan’s side haven’t had games against Division One sides but now face one who had the ignominy of a heavy defeat in the Ulster final.

But they overcame the obstacle of the six-day turnaround which traditionally not many teams do. That will give them a lot of confidence and they have already played Mayo this year so they know what they’re about.

People will also say Mayo’s championship tradition is a bit suspect in recent times and all these factors will come into the mix. There is certainly a case to be made for a Down victory given their own championship pedigree but I wouldn’t put my house on it.