Brian Carty previews the meeting of Munster’s juggernauts at Croke Park this weekend for the All-Ireland Football Final.
THE UPCOMING 122nd All-Ireland Senior Football Final sees Munster kingpins Cork and Kerry clash for the third time in this year’s Championship. Their last meeting occurred in the modest surroundings of Pairc Uí Chaoímh in the Munster semi-final, with victory for Cork, but the latest chapter in their rivalry takes place on the grandest stage of all.
While Cork gave Kerry a footballing lesson that day, revenge is a dish best served cold, and Kerry are a completely different outfit from the one that rolled over so tamely in June. As with every game between these two keen rivals, it is tough to predict the victor, and it is probably worth noting that for all of Cork’s success over Kerry in the Munster Championship over the past few seasons, when it comes to showdowns between them at headquarters, it is the Kingdom who have the Indian sign over Cork.
In order to determine the possible victor, one must look at the paths each team took to the decider. Conor Counihan’s Cork have cut a swathe through the Championship this year, with their combination of a towering, physical central spine and a youthful, dangerous full-forward line wreaking havoc to those unfortunate to face them.
They followed up their commanding replay victory over Kerry with a less-than-impressive victory over Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s Limerick in the Munster decider. However, they really kicked back into gear in the quarter-finals when they destroyed a lacklustre Donegal outfit, before putting their Croke Park hoodoo well and truly behind them, deservedly dethroning reigning champions Tyrone by four points despite playing with only fourteen men for the entire second half.
In contrast to the consistency shown by the Rebels, Kerry have experienced a rollercoaster of form throughout the summer. They appeared a side well and truly beaten following the replay defeat to Sunday’s opponents, and looked like a team in dire need of revamp following uninspiring victories over lowly counties Longford, Sligo and Antrim, three sides to which they would usually show no mercy.
However, as is the Kingdom tradition, they really came into their own in August when they gave arguably the performance of the Championship on Bank Holiday Monday, obliterating the much-hyped Dubs by seventeen points, immediately staking claims as possible All-Ireland contenders in the process.
They followed up that victory over Dublin with a hard-fought, but nonetheless comfortable victory over surprise package Meath in the semi-final, setting up a chance to exact revenge against their near neighbours in the decider.
Centre-back and captain, Graham Canty, has been the source of much inspiration this year for Cork, while midfield duo Nicholas Murphy and Alan O’Connor and centre-forward Pierce O’Neill all stand at least 6’4” and command the key midfield sector.
Meanwhile, youthful triumvirate Daniel Goulding, Donnacha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill have proved to be a confident, talented full-forward line, each capable of being match winners on their day.
Kerry’s ship has been steadied somewhat by the return from retirement of Michael McCarthy, playing now at his more customary centre-back berth, while Paul Galvin and Declan O’Sullivan appear to be revelling in the roles given to them by Jack O’Connor.
Much will depend on whether Darragh Ó Sé can exert his influence on O’Connor and Murphy, while Cork will hope that Anthony Lynch can continue his recent impressive man-marking job on Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper.
Both teams will lack nothing in motivation, skill and form, and while there will be no more than a couple of points in it either way, this writer feels that since their dethroning of Tyrone, Sam Maguire is destined to spend the winter on Leeside this year.