WHY can’t it be like this all the time? Even if we are treated to three more crackers, 2014 will not be recalled as a great season, given the drudgery we endured from May to August.
There have been too many easily predictable games, too many half-empty stadiums as the championship meandered through the height of summer with little of import decided.
Of the 60 games played so far, Sunday was only the third to pit two Division One counties together. Two of those three games were absolute thrillers, and the other, Kerry against Cork, was at least significant to the plot of the wider competition.
In what other tournament must we endure such an interminable wait for games of consequence?
Take the Leinster championship as the most shocking example. It took 64 days to play 10 games to establish what we could have told you a year ago — that Dublin are up to 20 points a better team than anything else the province can offer.
It took less than half that time — 31 days — to sort out the rather more unpredictable business of who the best soccer team in the world is, an argument that takes 64 games to settle.
After three months that come close to killing off our considerable enthusiasm, the championship finally sparkles.
Kildare against Monaghan and Donegal against Armagh wakened us from our doze, and then Mayo’s blend of heroic commitment and exasperating lapses produced two epic games to finally rivet our attention.
Both they and Kerry are unlikely to win the All-Ireland and yet they have reminded us that this is a great game when played between teams of roughly equal ability and intent who are competing for a meaningful prize. When it is like this, it is as enthralling a test of character and intelligence as can be posed on a sports field.
It will live long in the memory, Sunday’s game, mainly for Mayo’s scarcely credible comeback that had many leaders, but none greater than Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle.
O’Shea gave a second Roy of the Rovers performance running, and Boyle’s brilliance reminds us of James Horan’s achievements, for the man-of-the-match wing-back we see now was languishing as a failed corner-back about five years ago. Were it not for the mistake he made to allow James O’Donoghue that great goal chance, Boyle’s afternoon could be deemed close to perfect.
Kerry, too, lost no honour despite turning a four-point lead into a five-point deficit against 14 men. It must be remembered that only four of the 15 they set out with on Sunday also started the 2011 All-Ireland final.
Little wonder they are short of Mayo’s power and cohesion just yet and while the westerners must be favourites for the replay Kerry’s greater capacity for improvement, being a less seasoned team, offers enough to have us counting the hours until throw-in at the Gaelic Grounds.
Mayo’s protests about the venue are valid as Kerry are far more familiar with it. The fiasco should come as no surprise, for behind the empty guff, Croke Park is being run these days as a corporation and not an egalitarian, voluntary association.
While it is despicable that their sorry pursuit of the euro symbol above all else should relegate the status of an All-Ireland semi-final, the silver lining is that there will be great novelty in the occasion as one of our several large stadiums outside the capital is finally put to suitable use.
Over the longer term, the authorities must realise that the problem with their flagship competition is not these final weeks, which compel each year without fail, or the national league, an entertaining appetiser. The real killer is the 12 to 16 weeks in between, which could so easily be contracted.
Those hoping for a radical overhaul of the championship format will be waiting a long time but one easy way to guarantee another weekend or two of quality games outside Croke Park would be to give the four provincial champions a second chance.
It is madness, anyway, that had Kieran O’Leary missed — or O’Donoghue scored — in the last moments on Sunday, one of these two teams would be eliminated having suffered one loss all summer, while counties who take football a quarter as seriously get the privilege of two beatings.
The addition of preliminary and elimination finals would give us a few extra games and they could be played at other grounds to give us full houses and the prospect of seeing the Dubs on the road at least once.
It would buttress the back end of the season and offer a first step towards fixing the wider problems with the tournament’s format.
In the meantime, by accident rather than design, we have a rare weekend of two massive football games to look forward to. The real pity is that, after the final, we will have to wait almost a year before we can say that again.