Champions Kerry look to be too strong for improving Tipp and troubled Rebels as they eye September glory
Published 16/05/2015 | 01:00
The irony won't have been lost on the 'other four' Munster counties. The squads of Limerick, Tipperary, Clare and Waterford threatened to boycott the 2015 championship if the system was not altered.
And, after successfully campaigning to remove the seeding from the Munster football championship draw that virtually guaranteed a money-spinning provincial decider between Cork and Kerry, the status quo was retained by pure chance when the draw was made.
While, in theory, the 'big two' can now meet before the final, they were kept apart this time round, making it unlikely that the duopoly will be upset this year and ensuring the Clare team of 1992 retain their place in history as the last side other than Cork or Kerry to win the Munster Championship.
There have been some signs of progress in the other counties, but there's unlikely to be any coup.
Waterford won the McGrath Cup back in January, but that seems a distant memory now.
The Deise won just once in a disappointing Division 4 campaign - at home to Wicklow in the opening round - and face an ever-improving Tipperary in the first round in Semple Stadium.
Tipp have established themselves as the best of the rest in the province and they should prove too much for Waterford in that first-round clash and, thus, set up a home semi-final with Kerry.
Their U-21s' run to the All-Ireland final underlined the talent that is emerging in the county. Steven O'Brien and Colin O'Riordan formed a formidable midfield partnership in that team and they'll provide a platform for the county in years to come.
They aren't short of ambition either. O'Riordan didn't hold back when he suggested that Tipp could win Sam Maguire by 2020.
That's a bold claim even from a side who have been competing at the top end of things right through the underage ranks, but there's a danger of placing too much expectation on that young side too soon.
Still, they'll have something of a free shot at the All-Ireland champions should they get by Waterford.
Kerry are rarely at their best early in the summer and the trip to Semple will test them and Tipp, as witnessed by their results, are getting better by the year.
Peter Creedon's side ran Cork to two points last year before beating Laois on their way to the last round of the qualifiers, where they lost out to Galway.
A win against Kerry might be too much of an ask at this stage, but they'll likely enjoy a few championship outings in the back door.
This time a year ago the Kingdom were afforded as low key a build-up as they could have hoped for. An indifferent league meant they went almost under the radar until the Munster final, where they beat Cork by double scores. Shortly afterwards they were crowned All-Ireland champions.
There'll be nothing like that sort of understated run-in for them this time around.
The defending champions are better on paper, with the well- documented returns of Paul Galvin, Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh, but the Kerry public's expectations this time round will bring its own challenges.
Where those returning faces fit into the big picture remains to be seen, but Eamonn Fitzmaurice has already proved himself to be a master of bringing his side to the boil at just the right time and he will undoubtedly be looking further down the line and beyond the borders of Munster.
It's not too much of a stretch to foresee an All-Ireland final clash between the Kingdom and Dublin. Should both sides win their respective provincial crowns, they couldn't meet until the decider.
Cork will be expected to emerge from the other side of the draw and provide Kerry's sternest examination. Already in the semi-finals, they face the winners of Clare's clash with Limerick in Ennis.
Both of those sides finished their Division 3 campaigns with three wins and four defeats from seven outings. When the sides clashed in Newcastlewest, John Brudair's Limerick emerged double-score winners (2-10 to 1-5).
That could give them a edge, but Clare were really competitive against Kerry in their championship clash in Ennis last year (where they led by a point at the break and eventually went down by just four) and seem well organised under Colm Collins.
They could edge a tight game to set up a trip to Leeside.
Despite some harrowing defeats, Brian Cuthbert's Cork should still have too much for them to reach another provincial final.
In that scenario, Cork's mental resolve will be sorely tested. They have shipped some heavy defeats to top-class opponents in recent years. And the way Dublin dismantled their new, more pragmatic approach in the league final is a concern.
Those defeats must have been damaging and it will take a major change in fortune if they are to reverse the trend of 12 months ago and secure a Munster title.
However, Kerry look even stronger this time around and can operate at a level that is beyond most teams in the country, let alone the province.
And with the likelihood of a trip to Killarney for the Munster final on the cards, it could be yet another routine provincial championship for Kerry. A new system will produce very familiar winners.