You could spin a romantic tale for any of the four remaining football teams winning this All-Ireland SFC title.

On one side of the semi-finals draw, Derry haven’t claimed Sam Maguire since their sole success in 1993, while historical stylists Galway have been down for two decades.

For the Tribesmen, they’ll feel their meeting with the Oak Leafers presents a positive omen, what with their most recent glories of 1998 and 2001 coming with a win against the same opposition at this stage of the competition.

Kerry are the most traditional county of the lot, have a player in David Clifford that most neutrals want to see climb the steps, and there’s a normality to their supremacy.

How could there be romance around Dublin? Yes, they hovered over the world of Gaelic football like a Death Star for years and that became tiresome, but they’re no longer infallible. Sam wintered elsewhere in 2021, league relegation for the Blues followed, and now they’re an imperfect challenger.

Their march to the title during the six-in-a-row era became humdrum, and at times deflating. Some Dublin fans would admit that it no longer excited them, even if there was satisfaction in keeping Mayo and Kerry down.

Now that they’re looking more human, to see experienced warriors such as Michael Fitzsimons, Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy and Co scale the heights one last time would be perhaps their high watermark.

You could both appreciate the quality of Roger Federer during his dominant run and also tire of his winning. In his later years, when swimming upstream with fading powers against younger men, there was a fresh thrill when he got across the line. This may read the same for the Dubs in 2022.

Dublin v Kerry has a majesty around it. There’s the mystique of past meetings which stretch all the way back to 1892, and of course we’ve come a long way since. Just a year earlier in 1891, the size of a football was standardised, linesmen were given flags, and referees were permitted to allow scores if the ball was stopped by a spectator before it crossed the goalline.

While much has changed, still the unexpected remains in these big games. Both sides lost All-Ireland semi-finals after extra time last season, both have seen question marks over key forwards in Clifford and Con O’Callaghan.

Without the latter man from Cuala, the Dubs looked shier upfront in the handy win over Cork. From averaging 2-24 per game in games against Wexford, Meath and Kildare, that dropped to 0-21 against the Rebels. 

Goals, as ever, win games. As statistician Dave Morris pointed out this week, Dublin’s goal threat has been limited this year (league and championship) to taking 17 shots and scoring eight goals — one more goal than last year, with three extra games played. Con has been involved in half of them.

During the six-in-a-row run, never were there so many doubts about Dublin as there are now. Their inside line looked blunt against Cork, and talisman Dean Rock has managed just 0-6 from play in four outings — the same as Kerry corner-back Tom O’Sullivan.

Neither county has beaten a team of note, giving this game an extra layer of intrigue. For the Kingdom, they cantered past a beaten Cork, trampled Limerick, and saw off a Mayo team looking to be put out of its misery. 

Jack O’Connor and his management group refused to do media in the lead-up to the game, and though that decision won’t put the ball over the bar, it perhaps hints at inner fear. “Don’t say anything, don’t put a foot out of place…” is how it can feel. If Kerry win, they’ll feel vindicated; lose, and they’ll probably do it again anyway, in spite of how pointless this approach is.

Dessie Farrell has used over 50 players in competitive action this year, which suggests he’s still exploring options to get to that best 15. Cormac Costello (2-7), Ciarán Kilkenny (1-9) and Brian Fenton (0-11) must step up if Kerry are to be kept at bay.

Should Dublin be at full strength, then questions remain over Kerry’s steel. They came close in the 2019 drawn final but couldn't see it out despite having a man advantage. In the replay, Stephen O’Brien missed a great goal chance in the second half, but otherwise it was the Dubs in control.

Yet neither side is at the same pitch. Dublin don’t have the same array of weaponry, and the Kingdom remain unproven at this stage of the championship. One All-Ireland title since 2009, it must be remembered, a year when last they beat the capital in summer fare. Kerry must find a way over the line.

Galway have had late collapses in games against Mayo, Roscommon and Armagh, and yet each time they found a way. Coolness under fire, or are they a team waiting for the right opponent to finally chop their heads off?

Can the Tribe recover from the penalty drama against the Orchard, or will Derry claim a first victory over the maroon at the fourth time of asking in championship? Rory Gallagher’s men conceded four goals when Galway won their league meeting this season, but league is league.

It will count for nothing when bodies are colliding in Saturday’s bout.

Derry beat three Division 1 teams (Tyrone, Monaghan, Donegal) in the Ulster championship before hitting Clare for 5-13 in the All-Ireland quarter-final. The lattermost result suggests that, rather than being satisfied by a first provincial title in 24 years, they are energised by it.

Shane McGuigan v Shane Walsh is a headline act worth paying the entrance fee for, in a game that few can call with any real confidence.

With positive attributes and question marks hanging over every side, the romance of the cup is in the air this weekend.

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