Duffy will play central role in football's clash of the giants
Referee Marty Duffy will need to be on his toes when Cork and Kerry square up, says Colm O'Rourke
I often wondered why there were so few frees in hurling compared to football and why those who love hurling over all else have always felt that football was an inferior game.
The free count in last Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final reflected the disparity in interpretation of rules which are supposed to be the same. When Jackie Tyrell ran into Seamus Callinan early on, there was no free given. If it was a football match, it would certainly have been a free, and at least a yellow card as well.
In fact, there were plenty of places in the country a few years ago where a tackle like that in a club match would have provoked an all-in melee with as many spectators as possible getting involved, even the parish priest might have been tempted to make a contribution.
Last week everyone got on with their business, which made for a massively entertaining game with a few frees thrown in for minor things like manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.
It will be very interesting to see how Marty Duffy interprets the challenges which will go in thick and fast in next Sunday's football final. Last year I joked about trusting a small man to referee a game with big men involved. In this case everyone is going to look like Gulliver. Any player not well over six feet tall need not apply for nearly all positions. It will be a real test for Duffy and all spectators will hope he has a feel for the game from the first whistle and does not go overboard flashing yellow cards early on. This is not to forget players' responsibilities too.
While hoping Duffy does well, it appears very strange that Pat McEnaney was not appointed. Maybe the fact that the media in general depict him as the best ref does not help with officialdom but having done a great job on the Cork v Kerry replay in the Munster championship -- when he sent off Paul Galvin and Noel O'Leary -- it should have been an easy choice. Players like to know exactly where they stand with a ref and McEnaney lets them get on with the game and referees in an unfussed way.
So while McEnaney's style would be well known to the Cork and Kerry players, the appointment of Duffy, even though he has refereed a lot, will still mean scurrying for tapes of games to see what he lets go and what he is strict on. Now, of course, everyone will say that all refs should be the same but they are not -- everyone has a favourite priest for Mass -- and at this level where gold medals are at stake, good managers and players will try to cover all bases.
In covering all other options, players will obviously give a lot of consideration to the boots they wear. It should not be like that either. A player should be able to wear the same boots in Croke Park as anywhere else and when I read that blades are not suitable, it appears to me that there is something wrong when the boot that seems to be most commonly worn by young players is not suitable for our main arena.
Anyway, things seem to have improved greatly between the last football semi-final and last week's hurling game, but it is another variable that players should not have to worry about. As far as the presentation is concerned, I think it is reasonable to try for safety reasons to keep people off the pitch. Yet it is very hard to break the tradition of charging on and supporters think the association is getting too sanitised. Maybe a reasonable compromise would be if supporters were let onto the ground for a wander around after the presentation was over and players had left the pitch.
In terms of serious preparation for next Sunday, the job is complete. After today, managements will know exactly who will be playing but they might not tell the players until later in the week. There is not much debate anyway: on the Kerry side someone has to lose out if Tommy Walsh is selected, while Noel O'Leary may be under a bit of pressure on the Cork team.
Both sides will have identified a host of mistakes from their semi-final wins to put right. Cork have a problem with frees and Donnacha O'Connor will have been practising every day. If the frees are not going well for him, it affects the rest of his game; most free-takers are like that. It's a confidence thing.
The reports on Cork training before the Tyrone game was that the tackling and intensity was ferocious and the performance bore that out. This is a more ruthless model of Cork football than the one which collapsed last time in the All-Ireland final. It was very apparent in the way Graham Canty sailed close to the wind after Alan O'Connor was sent off. He probably felt that another Cork man was unlikely to be sent off and played accordingly. I would have done exactly the same myself.
Kerry might spend a bit of time debating whether they will go back to the short passing style which destroyed Dublin or go more for the route-one football which tipped Meath over the edge. Whatever it is, they have the men for it but they will hardly have the over-reliance on long, aimless balls which came unstuck against Tyrone last year. And, of course, Kieran Donaghy will be waiting in the wings to come on, maybe at full-forward or maybe even at midfield when (or if) Darragh ó Sé has run his race.
The selectors will be thinking about more than just the team. The next five on the subs' list are just as important and when they will be used. Of course circumstances can alter quickly but there will be a preliminary ordering of subs to come on which could be subject to complete change on the day.
So the players more or less sit and wait and wish the match was today, especially as the weather is so good. Maybe the rain god could postpone any rain dance for another week because nobody would benefit from a wet and windy day.
First-choice players will only go through the motions in training this week, the avoidance of injury being all-important. There are no medals for bravery in training but a couple could be given for stupidity if someone is not watching where they are going and end up spectating from the stand.
All the certainties of life have been thrown upside down this year: the banks have crumbled, Fianna Fail are in decline, the church is struggling, yet for Kerry it is business as usual in September. I have a week to consider whether Cork can knock down one of the remaining pillars of old Ireland and beat the Kingdom.