I must say that I am delighted to see fans returning to venues in fairly substantial numbers once again.
South of the border in particular, crowds have been rather limited of late but the fact that restrictions have been eased somewhat could mean that we will have bigger attendances for the closing stages of the All-Ireland Football Championship.
We got a further taste of the atmosphere that followers can bring to Championship matches last weekend.
There were 2,300 fans at the Armagh v Monaghan game and 2,400 at the Donegal v Tyrone game on Sunday.
And while the wall of sound at times in both venues would have done justice on occasions to a 10,000-strong gallery, this only reflected the relief, exuberance and excitement that fans were showing at being allowed to attend games again.
It also brought its own level of controversy, I feel, as in both Ulster semi-finals I think the respective referees were to some extent influenced by the baying of the crowd.
In the Armagh v Monaghan game, I think that the last free which Monaghan won was sparked by a clamour from their followers.
I am aware that David Coldrick is a vastly experienced official who has officiated at quite a number of high-profile matches over the course of several years but on this occasion I think he allowed himself to be ‘led’ by the crowd.
There was a delay between the contact made by the two players involved and the blowing of the whistle signalling the free which was duly converted.
The Armagh player involved was Tiernan Kelly and he clearly tackled the ball yet he got a yellow card for his trouble which was rather unfortunate — and unjust.
We had the situation a couple of weeks ago when referee James Owens awarded a penalty to Tipperary in their Munster Hurling Championship tie against Clare which left almost everyone in the ground puzzled with the unfortunate whistler’s decision now being described as “one of the worst in GAA refereeing history”.
Once again the clamour from the crowd appeared to influence the referee in making the call. To be fair there was something like 7,000 fans in the ground but the din they created gave the impression there were 47,000 there!
Joe McQuillan was the man in the middle when Tyrone overcame Donegal on Sunday and while he did not get every call right, nevertheless he seemed to keep the crowd on his side — and take it from me, that’s not an easy thing for a referee to do.
Even though once again we were looking at a limited crowd at Brewster Park, Enniskillen, there was still a tremendous buzz within the ground and not surprisingly McQuillan found himself the centre of attention more than once.
But overall a lot of the calls which have been made to date this season have been the wrong calls and these do not show the sport, whether it’s football, hurling, ladies’ football or camogie, in the best possible light.
This is unfortunate because everyone accepts that all referees are trying to do the right thing and allow games to flow without wanting to be too officious.
While I accept that referees are to some extent hamstrung by some of the rules, particularly the most recent additions to their manual, I am also aware that wrong calls can have a serious impact on games.
Obviously when what are perceived to be mistakes are made by referees in the more high-profile matches, these tend to be highlighted on television and magnified — sometimes to an exaggerated extent, if the truth be told.
I have the greatest sympathy for referees and I recognise that if we did not have them then it would be impossible for our games to be staged.
But such is the microscopic coverage of Gaelic games now by all media outlets that the whistlers simply cannot afford to put a foot wrong.
I sincerely hope for the remainder of the current season that referees enjoy a smooth passage in the execution of their duties and my advice to them is this — if possible, try and blot out the crowds.
While the Ulster Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals held the national spotlight last weekend, there is no doubt that many people will since have been dissecting the outcome of another Championship Semi in a different province.
Indeed, the scare Dublin had in meeting Meath in the Leinster Championship has provided further substance to the now widely-held belief that their treasured All-Ireland title could slip from their grasp.
With the game entering injury-time, Dublin were clinging onto a three-point lead (2-13 to 1-13) well aware that a breakaway goal could have plunged them into deep trouble.
But Dessie Farrell’s side managed to regain their equilibrium and get over the line.
To my mind, Dublin are not quite the force they once were. Several alterations have been made to the starting line-up, there is a less experienced bench available to the management and the players don’t seem to possess the level of hunger that has been their trademark for so long now.
I would liken the dilution of Dublin’s authority to that encountered by Manchester United when they reigned supreme on the English club scene some years ago.
Everyone thought then that United were invincible and that a team could not go to Old Trafford and win. Then all of a sudden teams started to do precisely this on a semi-regular basis and in no time at all United had been knocked off their proud perch.
Even though the Dubs have not lost a Championship match since 2014 when Donegal were their conquerors, to me they look a little more vulnerable right now.
Their aura of invincibility has waned a little, key players have departed, their bench is not as strong as it was and one wonders if the team’s overall appetite is still as sharp as it always has been.
There will be a few teams in particular who will bid to profit from Dublin’s less than dominating form right now, and here I am thinking of Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone in particular.
These are three sides that would fancy their chances against the current Dublin side, and the expectation is that perhaps two of them could yet be pitting themselves against the reigning All-Ireland champions.
I can’t wait for the remainder of the Championship.