Intermediate preview: Cork v Kilkenny
Croke Park, 2.0
Cork and Kilkenny are on course for a potentially extraordinary double in Croke Park today, and it is indicative of the incredible work ongoing in these counties that they lock horns in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland intermediate championship final a couple of hours before their senior counterparts take centre stage.
There is no disputing the two best teams are pitted against each other in today's second-string decider. They have impressed in all of their group games, emerging with maximum points - the only contenders to do so. Two groups of five participated in the grade (Cork, Down, Galway, Kildare and Meath) and (Antrim, Kilkenny, Laois, Tipperary and Wexford) with the top pair from each section progressing straight to the semi-finals.
Also adding to the intrigue is the fact Paudie Murray and his management team are guiding both Cork outfits, which no doubt is a magnificent achievement but also one requiring meticulous planning. Wexford did the double in 2011, and Galway repeated the remarkable feat in 2013.
Kilkenny have Mike Wall and Ger Walsh at the helm. They have already tasted success with the county's minors, claiming Leinster and All-Ireland glory in 2015. However, it is eight years since the Noresiders won the intermediate title - when they defeated Cork by three points. They were back in the final again in 2014, but there was no happy ending for Kilkenny, as they came out second best to Limerick in the intermediate tie and fell to Cork in the senior match.
With an extremely talented squad, Kilkenny have scored a massive 16-54 in their four championship outings thus far, and they have conceded 3-34. Three weeks ago, they defeated the 2015 finalists Kildare by 1-15 to 0-7 in the semi-final. They have quality strikers in Ciara Holden, Keeva Fennelly and Jenny Clifford. Keeva is from the well-known Fennelly family - her father Ger, along with her uncles, were, of course, Kilkenny hurling greats.
Cork's most recent success in this grade goes back 10 years to 2006, the first year of this competition under a new structure, having replaced the All-Ireland senior 'B' competition. Like their challengers, the Rebels too have upped the tempo as the season progressed. They recorded a comfortable seven-point win over Laois in the semi-final.
The Munster side have an aggregate score of 2-37 from three outings (they got a walkover from Down in their fourth group game) and they have conceded 1-25. Like Kilkenny, they possess a lot of class up front. Watch out especially for Rachel O'Shea, Sarah Fahy and Linda Collins who are outstanding score-getters.
A statistic worth remembering is that in this championship to date Kilkenny have proven to be the strongest attack, while Cork is deemed to have the strongest defence. Game on, then. It is also interesting to note that win, lose or draw, a number of the Munster players will return immediately to the field of play as they are substitutes on the senior squad.
The Leesiders have, more or less, relied on a regular starting 15 throughout the senior campaign; however, depending on the result of the 2.0pm throw-in, this could be quite a memorable September 11 for some of the Cork players who stand to win two All-Ireland medals on the same afternoon.
Sunday Indo Sport