Is this the weekend where the football season truly kicks into gear?

Derry followers will perhaps take great umbrage at such a statement, while Galway players and management are rightly basking in their first piece of silverware under the guidance of Pádraic Joyce.

It is also not to undermine the importance of the Tailteann Cup, with Pat Spillane this week lauding the competition on the RTÉ GAA podcast.

But, in the overall scheme of things in the race for Sam Maguire – notwithstanding the fact that there are teams still involved who aren't genuinely harbouring All-Ireland ambitions – truly takes shape with the arrival of knock-out football and the first round of the qualifiers.

While Derry, Kerry, Dublin and Galway can sit back and await their quarter-final fate, and the quartet of Limerick, Roscommon, Kildare and Donegal lick their wounds after provincial defeats and look to re-group, this weekend will see four sides head for the exit door.

Ulster neighbours, qualifier foes

Tyrone and Armagh would probably have preferred to keep their sparring confined to Ulster jousts, though it is five years since they last crossed paths in championship football when the Red Hand crushed Kieran McGeeney’s side by 18 points in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

The Orchard County have struggled in this fixture – their 2014 qualifier win their sole championship success in the last five meetings between the teams – but home advantage could be crucial in their bid to send the All-Ireland champions packing.

The dramatic scenes from their league encounter this year, when referee David Gough dismissed four Tyrone players and one from Armagh for contributing to a melee, an infraction that has hardly been considered by officials since, is another sub-plot to a game that may take little to bubble over.

David Gough dishes out the red cards during February's league encounter

The all-Ulster clash is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch from a neutral perspective, but the three games on Saturday have a more novel feel to them.

Harte attack to test Rebel health

First up is Louth’s visit to Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Mickey Harte’s record in the qualifiers would suggest that his team, with Sam Mulroy leading the attack, are more than capable of getting one over a Cork side that is very much in transition.

Harte's first foray into the qualifiers with Louth is a timely reminder of his impressive record in the backdoor with his native Tyrone, overseeing 31 wins, one draw – against Louth in 2006 – and just four defeats - as the Wee County look to bounce back from a dispiriting 16-point defeat to Kildare in Leinster.

Will Mickey Harte continue his impressive record in the qualifiers?

It marks just the third time that the biggest and smallest counties have clashed in championship football.

The 1957 All-Ireland final went the way of Louth (on that particular day in Croke Park Louth wore the green of Leinster while Cork wore the blue of Munster) while 50 years later, the Rebels had two points to spare in a qualifier win.

With John Cleary stepping into the Cork hotseat in the continued absence of Keith Ricken due to health issues, it will be interesting to see what they can offer in front of what is likely to be a modest crowd.

Was the dozen points Kerry had to spare in the Munster semi-final flattering to a side that appears reliant on Steven Sherlock to shine, or will a new crop of players begin to make their presence felt at senior level?

New championship ground to be broken in Castlebar

Given the frequency at which these teams meet in the annual bearpit of Division 1 football - seven times in the last eight years - it seems scarcely believable that Saturday marks the first time Mayo and Monaghan will do battle in championship football.

The qualifiers always provide an opportunity for those looking to prove a point, and that will very much be the case at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.

James Horan’s men fought back valiantly against Galway to almost snatch a draw, but were second best for long stages of their championship encounter, while the Farney men eased past a hugely disappointing Down before coming up short against Derry on their way to an Ulster title.

Monaghan were unable to halt the Derry success story in Ulster

Watching Derry edge to a provincial title in a cagey encounter against Donegal will only fuel the 'what ifs’ from a Monaghan perspective given how profligate they were in front of the posts in their semi-final. They had 11 shots at the posts before scoring one from play, taking all of 32 minutes before Conor McCarthy ended the misery.

We know at this stage that league results need to be taken with a large amount of salt, but given the split record in their last five league clashes (W2 D1 L2), the possibility of extra-time and potentially penalties seems a realistic proposition.

Royals looking for another win in Ennis

Only once before have Meath and Clare footballers eyed each other up in championship football, with the Royals taking the spoils by the bare minimum in their round 4 qualifier three years ago.

There are only four survivors from both starting teams that day in Portlaoise that began their respective provincial defeats.

The Banner will feel they should have wrapped up victory before going out in a penalty shootout to Limerick and as predictable as a Royal defeat was at the hands of Dublin, only in the lopsided nature of the provincial championships could a 13-point loss, retrospectively at least, appear to be something of a moral victory.

Clare will once again look to the long-serving David Tubridy (pictured above) and Eoin Clearly to lead the attack, while for Meath, Jordan Morris, Jack O’Connor and Bryan Menton have been their key performers in getting past Wicklow before coming up short against the Dubs.

The Royals will take confidence from the fact they have already beaten Clare in Ennis this year, another one-point win, while their record in the qualifiers, unlike Clare, is a positive one, winning 18 of their 32 qualifiers.

Clare have a 40% winning record from their 27 qualifiers to date.

Listen to the RTÉ GAA Podcast at Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences