By James McMahon

The final two football quarter-finals along with the first of the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals showcase what should be a fascinating weekend of action at Croke Park. 

1600 Donegal v Armagh (All-Ireland SFC quarter-final)
1800 Dublin v Monaghan (All-Ireland SFC quarter-final)

1530 Kilkenny v Limerick (All-Ireland SHC semi-final)

Sky Sports 3:
Donegal v Armagh and Dublin v Monaghan live from 1530. Also live worldwide (excluding Great Britain) on GAAGO

Radio 1: Dublin v Monaghan on Saturday Sport from 1445. Kilkenny v Limerick on Sunday Sport from 1400.

Newstalk: Donegal v Armagh from 1600 on Saturday.

Saturday/Sunday: Both days look like having a mixture of sunshine and showers.


Donegal v Armagh
There is much to ponder ahead of this clash. Some observers already have Donegal in the semi-final and a potential meeting with the Dubs. You can be sure that Jim McGuinness will have his troops focused on the challenge in hand - and that is performing to their best on the hallowed Jones' Road turf.

Coming after their no-show against Mayo last August and the subsequent defeat to Monaghan in this year's Division 2 league final, Donegal, in the words of Karl Lacey, are "looking for a big performance" when they return to Croker on Saturday afternoon.

The Ulster final victory over Monaghan was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. You get the sense that the 2012 All-Ireland champions are back, close enough you would think, to the pitch that brought them ultimate success two seasons ago. 

During the week, a planned press conference with Armagh assistant manager Peter McDonnell and captain Ciarán McKeever was cancelled at short notice.

No white smoke then in the situation that has prevailed since the "brawl" at the Athletic Grounds back in June. Arising from that, Armagh boss Paul Grimley has enforced a ban on practically all mainstream GAA media.

There is hope, however, that the impasse will be resolved so that the Orchard voice will, more widely, be heard and written about this weekend.

As to happenings on the field of play, Armagh are certainly leaving an idelible imprint on this year's championship campaign.

We all stood up and took notice when they took Monaghan to a replay in the Ulster semi-final. Against the odds, they went to Omagh and removed Tyrone from the All-Ireland series. Subsequent victories over Roscommon and Meath followed. They are back in an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time since 2008.

They won't fear facing Donegal. If their foot-passing is as crisp as it was against the Royals last weekend, and the number of shots that land into the arms of the opposing 'keeper is reduced, then they can cause McGuinness' side some problems. 

That said, many are expecting a tough, attritional encounter on Saturday. Donegal always seem to come through such battles, and Armagh, make no mistake about it, will be ready to play their part in what will be a tight contest, both on the field of the play and on the scoreboard.

Verdict: Donegal 

Dublin v Monaghan

Last weekend's win over Kildare was Monaghan's first championship success at Croke Park since 1930. Whatever about breaking the Croke Park hoodoo, the nature of the success will have pleased their supporters.

In normal time, there were times when the Lilywhites looked like pulling way. They certainly would have if they had taken some gilt-edged chances and had a reliable left-footed free-taker.  

However, the Farney stuck to their task and goals at crucial periods from Vinny Corey and Christopher McGuinness ultimately proved crucial as Malachy O'Rourke's troops booked their place in a consecutive quarter-final.  

Many have asked whether the exertions of extra-time will leave Monaghan at reduced levels for the Dubs, but O'Rourke is confident that the Kildare game, with the extra 20 minutes, will stand to them. That said, he knows his side must improve even more if they are to have stop Dublin from "running straight through" them.

We are all well aware of how effective Jim Gavin's men are when they run at teams; the strength of their bench and how Stephen Cluxton orchestrates what's before him with his kick-outs.

Dublin are a better team now than they were last year. They would have preferred a stronger challenge from Meath in the Leinster final, but Saturday's opponents should bring a physical challenge that could unsettle their rhythm. 

However, it's unlikely to have any bearing on the outcome. The Dubs have enough reinforcements to see them through this assignment and so leave them well placed to deal with another Ulster challenge at the end of the month.

Verdict: Dublin


Kilkenny v Limerick

For the second time in three seasons, Kilkenny and Limerick face off in the championship. At the quarter-final stage in 2012. the Cats prevailed on a 4-16 to 1-16 scoreline. The winning margin did flatter Brian Cody's side, who had to rely on the scoring prowess of Henry Shefflin to see them through.

Time moves on and since then Kilkenny, in the words of their manager, failed to find any "fluidity or flow" to their game in the 2013 campaign.

Limerick, on the other hand, reclaimed the Munster crown on a sun-drenched day at the Gaelic Grounds. They arrived at Croke for their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final clash with Clare in confident mood. However, they fell flat on the day, and were comfortably cast aside.

TJ Ryan will want his side to leave everything on the pitch on Sunday. Speaking recently to RTÉ Sport, former Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy believes the prospect of facing Kilkenny will hold little fear for this Limerick side.

He singled out the contribution of Seamus Hickey, Declan Hannon and Shane Dowling in the facile win over Wexford, though a sterner challenge from the Model County would have been of greater benefit, he added, ahead of the joust with the Cats.

Apart from a letting a substantial lead slip against Galway in the drawn Leinster semi-final, Kilkenny regained the Leinster crown with little fuss. 

Cody believes his side are moving better now than was the case last year. Outside observers will claim that the Black and Amber have slipped a little from the side that reigned from '06 to '09. They may not, however, have to get to that level to win this year's All-Ireland.

Limerick, you suspect, will tear into this semi-final from the off. How Kilkenny respond will tell us where the side are really at after the "off" year in 2013.

Verdict: Kilkenny