From the beginning of this year's Allianz FL Division 1 campaign, Kerry never looked the part.  Without O’ Donoghue, O’Mahony and Cooper they just did enough to stay in the division.

The newly promoted pair of Monaghan and Donegal gave the competition the respect it deserved and consequently prospered. Semi-final appearances franked progress made.

Mayo should, in retrospect, have made a bigger push to win national silverware.  

Experienced squad, new management: a league title would have boosted confidence. Both Derry and Tyrone had fault lines exposed and paid the price with relegation.

So really the final pairing of Cork and Dublin should have surprised few. Between them they have won each of the last five Division 1 titles and this year, in going for three in a row, Dublin will attempt to emulate what Cork did in 2010,’11 and ’12.

It is the third time since 1989 that they have crossed swords in the decider and on each occasion the Leesiders claimed the spoils.

"Dublin ended the regular season with the best defensive record of any team across the four divisions"

Yet, at the semi-final stage in last year’s competition Dublin recorded an emphatic victory over today’s opponents, so it’s quite clear that each team has reason to be confident.

Little can be read into the opening round meeting between the sides. Jim Gavin’s promise to experiment got its baptism that afternoon and it is interesting that only six of the team that started that day participated in the semi-final win over Monaghan.

The Rebels, with a more consistent selection policy, won the season’s opener and when accounting for Donegal in the semi-final, 11 of that team were still in situ.

Much comment has been made about the suffocating, nihilistic and utterly boring defensive approach that has characterised much of the football this spring. From what I have seen of them, both finalists are exempt from criticism on these grounds.

Without ever reverting to the full house behind the ball, Dublin ended the regular season with the best defensive record of any team across the four divisions.

Apart from alternating the goalkeeper, 13 different players started in defence. Of the newcomers, Eoin Culligan and John Small experienced most game time.

Tried and trusted stalwarts  like Johnny Cooper and Jack McCaffrey were virtually ever-present and with the recent return to the colours of James McCarthy and Cian O’Sullivan, Dublin have started to look even more formidable .

Cork, in contrast, had the stand-out attacking stat in the top tier and it is with this sector that much of their hopes rest. The inside trio of Brian Hurley, Colm O Neill and Mark Collins have between them forged a good understanding and, as in the Mayo encounter, notched winning scores while working on meagre rations.

The growing influence of the O’Driscoll brothers has improved the team. Their industry has rejuvenated the central sector. Allied to this, Eoin Cadogan in his midfield role has provided leadership and an improved ball-winning capacity.

Notwithstanding the defeat to Derry (their place in the semi-final was already assured) their other three trips into the northern reaches yielded solid performances and indeed one of the leagues stand-out results with the win over Tyrone in Omagh.  

"The Rebels have a tendency to allow fallow periods to develop and let the opposition get to them"

The return of Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and Donncha O’Connor to the colours will have pleased boss Brian Cuthbert and added to the strength of the squad.

Nonetheless I still fancy Dublin to prevail. The availability of Denis Bastick and the return of Michael Darragh MacAuley to the squad have hardened the odds in their favour. Dean Rock has impressed; Kevin Mc Manamon has oiled the wheels in the attack and Diarmuid Connolly is always capable of genius.

Their all-round game and current form is superior to that of Cork’s. The Rebels have a tendency to allow fallow periods to develop and let the opposition get to them. Do this to the present Dublin team and you have signed your death warrant. The Dubs by four. 

Down and Roscommon will relish the prospect of performing in Croke Park. In a competitive division that included Meath and Galway and indeed my own fancy, Kildare(oops!), both teams toughed it out to the decider. For an outfit that many accused of being too defensive, Down still scored more goals than any other in the division.

If distractions were a cause for stalling progress then Roscommon shouldn’t be here at all as their U-21 team stole the limelight all year in the county. The defeat of this very promising group of players (I had the good fortune to attend their wonderful win in the Connacht final) to Tyrone last week will do them no harm in the long run.

Now that the lads have senior football exclusively to concentrate on will be to Roscommon’s advantage. With a three point win over Down already behind them and promotion won in successive years I fancy the Rossies, but it will be tight and tough.

Those epithets are certainly apt in describing what to expect in the Division 3 final.

Fermanagh, under Pete McGrath have improved, but the Armagh juggernaut is rumbling once more under the gaze of their favourite son, Kieran Mc Geeney.

With Ciaran O’Hanlon and Jamie Clarke purring I expect an Armagh win.

Longford and Offaly start proceedings over the weekend by contesting the Division 4 final on Saturday evening. No contest, those of another generation, might say! Offaly in a canter! 

The fact that Longford are one of only three unbeaten teams across the four divisions tells us all we need to know about their prospects. Willie Mulhall and Niall McNamee have been to the fore with Offaly but with a better balanced attack Longford will, I think, prevail.

Let’s hope that performances in each of four finals do justice to all the participants. Attacking football would be a welcome bonus.