Posted by Ciarán Whelan

Donegal's incredible strength, fitness and physique means they will take some stopping as they bid to win a first All-Ireland in 20 years

2012 Donegal win

This was what we had expected. It was dour and littered with stoppages and cynical fouls but Donegal were quick out of the blocks and had a four-point lead after ten minutes. They attempted to shut up shop after that but their performance was impressive at all times in the first half.

When Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan scored early it looked as if Kerry were going to expose them but that never happened. Donegal quickly got their house in order and forced Kerry into taking on some terrible shot options. They put pressure on and got men behind the ball and that’s what makes them so difficult to play against.

They force teams into recycling the ball and eventually panic sets in and Kerry kicked away a lot of poor ball when you would have expected more of them.

Donegal deserve great credit. Their fitness, their collective physique, their strength in the tackle and their work-rate is absolutely phenomenal. I thought Mark McHugh was man of the match. He got back brilliantly and moved forward with the ball with purpose. His vision and reading of the game means it’s so hard to contain him and he has such fitness levels that it’s very difficult for anyone to stay with him. His engine and ability to get up and down the pitch is just incredible.

Donegal will be disappointed that they almost let it slip. Kerry went on a bit of a surge and got a foothold in the middle of the park. It looked as if they might rescue it until Karl Lacey burst forward and sealed it for Jim McGuinness’s side.

But, all in all, we got what we expected and now Donegal can consider themselves to be at the top table. I didn’t buy into the train of thought that Kerry were suddenly back to their best form. They beat a Tyrone team on the way down but struggled against Westmeath.

The question now is where do Kerry go from here and will Jack O’Connor stay on. They will probably lose a few to retirement and the level of fitness and training now required of the top teams is probably something that’s beyond a few of the older Kerry players such as Tomás Ó’Sé, Eoin Brosnan and Aidan O’Mahony, all of whom will probably consider their futures.

IT’S BEEN A difficult year for Kildare. For the last few years they have been able to get through the qualifiers but then struggle when they meet the top teams.

When Cork ran at them they tore them to shreds. They had a difficult period in the first half when Cork scored two goals and that knocked the confidence out of Kildare. They just don’t get goals and once they went eight points down it was always going to be a big ask.

They did look like they were going to make a game of it but Cork have probably learnt from the game against Mayo last year and came out in the second half and pushed on. The power that they have, their strength in depth and the running game that they can play is just formidable. They are serious contenders and they always were.

The confidence will be drained out of Kildare and whether Kieran McGeeney can drag them back from this remains to be seen. I don’t know how much self-belief will be there after this beating and if you’re in a dressing room listening to the same voice for a number of years you have to question if there is a sustained belief in the system.

I think they’re all the better from having McGeeney involved because he has raised standards and he has brought a level of professionalism to the set up. The whole Seanie Johnston saga didn’t help them but maybe they should have started him today and tried something different in the forward line.

For Cork it’s onwards and upwards and they showed that the layoff didn’t affect them. One of the positive things for them is that they all pitch in with scores and they have danger men all over the place who can contribute rather than just relying on one or two marquee forwards. It’s going to be a cracking semi-final and Cork will be a completely different proposition for Donegal than Kerry were.

AT THE START of the year Pat Gilroy said Dublin would have to improve to retain their All-Ireland but they haven’t. The cohesion in their forward line wasn’t good enough and Alan Brogan is a huge loss, especially with Bernard not playing well.

However, I wouldn’t be as pessimistic as I was after the Meath game because I saw hunger in their game that I hadn’t seen before. Laois deserve a huge amount of credit, though, because they had to set up defensively to frustrate Dublin and they did that for long periods.

They never really looked like they were going to win the game but they can come away with some confidence and self-belief after putting it up to Dublin.

From Gilroy’s perspective they were a little bit too defensive and lacked firepower. When they broke they didn’t do it quickly enough and didn’t have the same movement as they had last year. They always looked like scoring goals last year but that wasn’t the case on Saturday evening.

They have problems that they need to sort out. They need to get into the scoring zone far more often because apart from Brogan and Kevin Nolan scores they didn’t work any easy openings. They have a lot of work to do but in one way they are nicely positioned because Mayo will be built up as the form team and that might ignite something in them. From one to nine they are still very strong and if they can get their forward line firing I wouldn’t be writing them off just yet.

Having said that, I’ve been impressed with Mayo. Defensively they are very good and they have been on top around the middle of the park. Sometimes you’d question their forward line but I thought that against Down they interchanged well and supported each other well.

They moved the ball quickly and didn’t get caught going laterally. They carved Down open but Andy Moran will be a big loss to them. They will come up against a better defence the next day but they are certainly a force to be reckoned with.