Cooper absence shows Kerry's power
The Kingdom's strength in depth is second to none, writes Damian Lawlor
Coincidental or not, the omission of Colm Cooper from the starting Kerry 15 for today's Munster final has certainly taken the sting out of those "rudderless" Cork comments from Tomás Ó Sé. Ó Sé's blunt assessment stoked the fires ahead of this latest renewal of an old rivalry and sent Kerry folk - who normally give nothing more than platitudes about tough encounters and taking it one game at a time - fire-fighting.
Their manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, was keen to pour cold water on Ó Sé's comments. At a press briefing, he described poor old Cork as the "most maligned team in the country". And he went a step further on Thursday night by listing a starting 15 with no Colm Cooper, who has scored 6-48 against the Rebels in 22 championship appearances. There was no Anthony Maher and no Paul Geaney either, two players who kept the Kerry pulse beating deep into last summer.
Last time out against Tipperary, Cooper kicked three points, but one wonders if it is still too soon for his inclusion in such a high-octane game. While most of his kinsmen were calling for more game time for the Gooch, the truth is they do not appreciate the horrific extent of his cruciate injury - one that would have ended the careers of others less committed to returning.
It's entirely likely that the Kerry manager is keeping a protective layer around his main man, an eight time All Star, and has the best interests of Cooper at heart, feeling that an impact off the bench and a lengthy break to the All-Ireland series will get him up to the speed needed for September glory.
Or perhaps he is not bowled over by what he has seen on the training ground, which the rest of us don't get to see. No matter what, it's a huge call. It's Cork, it's a Munster final, it's Killarney, his back yard. And he starts on the bench - for only the second time in his career.
There are changes in all lines of the field, except half-back, where Jonathan Lyne retains his place despite the return to fitness of All Star Paul Murphy, but who is anyone to argue with Fitzmaurice? Not only did he show what he is about with a tactical masterstroke in the All-Ireland colleges final last year, moving a corner-back up front and implementing a sweeper system in the second half to engineer a fine comeback win, but he also took Kerry from the ashes to an unexpected championship.
And on final day he took all the pressure off James O'Donoghue by withdrawing him from the inside-forward line where he would have been bottled up by a gritty Donegal full-back line. Instead, O'Donoghue was brought out the field, Kieran Donaghy too, and the pressure on their shoulders greatly eased. The Donegal boys adapted well at the start, but with two of Kerry's most lethal inside forwards getting on the ball further out the field, the Ulster side were left with uncertainty and a gameplan that they never saw coming. The Kerry manager is brave and unflinching when it comes to making match-winning decisions and moves, and few could question him when the stakes are at their highest.
And it's not as if Fitzmaurice is bringing strangers into his line-up for today's final either. Fionn Fitzgerald comes in for Mark Griffin in the full-back line; All Star midfielder David Moran comes in for Anthony Maher; Stephen O'Brien and Donnchadh Walsh replace Michael Geaney and Cooper in the half-forward line, while current Footballer of the Year James O'Donoghue is back to fitness and back on the team, taking Paul Geaney's corner-forward berth.
And now just look at the bench Kerry have, at the array of talent Fitzmaurice has in reserve: Cooper, Paul Murphy, Maher, Darran O'Sullivan, Aidan O'Mahony and Tommy Walsh (who is reported to be flying in training) to name just a few. That line-up could be enough to backbone a provincial championship-winning side anywhere else - even with the Dubs in Leinster.
This is either a rubber-stamping of Kerry's ever-increasing choice of options - remember Paul Galvin still has to come back into the mix - or an indication that the All-Ireland champions are less than settled as they tackle the crowd from over the road.
We suspect it's the former, which is ominous for pretenders to their throne. And sure who is talking about rudderless Cork now?
Kerry v Cork: A busy rivalry
This afternoon's Munster final pairing, Cork against Kerry, is by far the busiest rivalry in Gaelic football, certainly since the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2001. The counties have met 25 times in the new millennium, with Kerry winning 15 games to Cork's five, while there were five draws. Six of Kerry's wins have been in All-Ireland semi-finals/finals in Croke, where Cork have never beaten their neighbours.
Cork v Kerry 2000-2014
2014: Kerry 0-24 Cork 0-12 (Munster final)
2013: Kerry 1-16 Cork 0-17 (Munster final)
2012: Cork 0-17 Kerry 0-12 (Munster semi-final)
2011: Kerry 1-15 Cork 1-12 (Munster final)
2010: Kerry 1-15 Cork 1-14 (Munster semi-final replay, after extra-time)
2010: Kerry 0-15 Cork 0-15 (Munster semi-final)
2009: Kerry 0-16 Cork 1-9 (All-Ireland final)
2009: Cork 1-17 Kerry 0-12 (Munster semi-final replay)
2009: Cork 1-10 Kerry 0-13 (Munster semi-final)
2008: Kerry 2-14 Cork 1-13 (All-Ireland semi-final replay)
2008: Kerry 1-13 Cork 3-7 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2008: Cork 1-16 Kerry 1-11 (Munster final)
2007: Kerry 3-13 Cork 1-9 (All-Ireland final)
2007: Kerry 1-15 Cork 1-13 (Munster final)
2006: Kerry 0-16 Cork 0-10 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2006: Cork 1-12 Kerry 0-9 (Munster final replay)
2006: Cork 0-10 Kerry 0-10 (Munster final)
2005: Kerry 1-19 Cork 0-9 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2005: Kerry 1-11 Cork 0-11 (Munster final)
2004: Kerry 0-15 Cork 0-7 (Munster semi-final)
2002: Kerry 3-19 Cork 2-7 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2002: Cork 0-15 Kerry 1-9 (Munster semi-final replay)
2002: Cork 0-8 Kerry 0-8 (Munster semi-final)
2001: Kerry 0-19 Cork 1-13 (Munster final)
2000: Kerry 2-15 Cork 1-13 (Munster final)
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