Gaelic Football

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Sinead Kissane: Munster's phoney war is still an event I wouldn't miss for world

Back door softened rivalry but Cork/Kerry is our Ali/Frazier

Sinead Kissane

Published 04/07/2014 | 02:30

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Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh, battles with Pearse O'Neill of Cork during last year's Munster SFC final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh, battles with Pearse O'Neill of Cork during last year's Munster SFC final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Before you read, an anti-spoiler alert. If you want a piece which hams up the importance of the Munster football final, you better not read on. If you want an essay on the enduring relevance of the rivalry between Cork and Kerry in Munster, you better go elsewhere.

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There is nothing for you here if you want a story about why the Cork and Kerry players will play as if their championship lives depend on Sunday's outcome. Why? Because their championship lives don't hang on the result.

The Munster football championship has become a phoney war. Ultimately, what matters for Cork and Kerry is August and everything after. Croke Park. The All-Ireland. Knock-out time.

Not that you'd hear a whiff of this from either team. A watered-down version of the Cork-Kerry rivalry on Sunday? Of course not. Isn't it a tussle everyone wants to see? And didn't the Munster Council go to the bother of insulting the other inter-county teams in the province in order to keep Cork and Kerry on opposite sides of the seeded draw. Again.

You've heard the outcry over the reduced capacity for the Munster hurling final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Similar outrage for the football final at the same venue? Not at all. Not even a whimper. After all, it is only the most significant rivalry in Gaelic football.

So with the back door, does familiarity breed indifference in Munster? In the second year of the qualifier system, Ireland's crunch 2002 World Cup game against Spain took place just before the Munster semi-final between Kerry and Cork. Ireland lost on penalties. Pathetic fallacy played its part as torrential showers hit Killarney.

By half-time, some fans started to leave Fitzgerald Stadium. Between the result at the World Cup, the rain and the chance of another rendezvous later in the summer (which came to pass in the All-Ireland semi-final), some supporters just didn't want to hang around. The game ended in a draw. There was almost a funeral-like atmosphere. Was this the beginning of the end of the importance of the Munster championship?

Yes, Munster is a stand-alone competition; a chance to stack up silverware. But how pertinent is it in the bigger aim of winning an All-Ireland? In 2002, '06, '08 and '09, Cork beat Kerry in Munster.

They met again in the All-Ireland series those same summers. What happened? Kerry beat Cork every time (including the replay after the drawn All-Ireland semi-final in 2008). What do we deduce from this? Take your beatings in Munster because we'll see you later in the championship, when it really matters.


Does losing in Munster leave you better primed for an assault on the All-Ireland? Guess what happened in Munster before Cork won the All-Ireland in 2010? Yep, Cork lost to Kerry after a replay in the Munster semi-final. Kerry have twice won the Sam Maguire through the qualifier route, in 2006 and '09.

Now, imagine if it was pre-2001 again. When entry and exit was through one door. Imagine Cork or Kerry's championship on the line on Sunday. Cue 'The Hunger Games' soundtrack.

Some fans may even borrow an Alex Ferguson line; and look forward to knocking Cork/Kerry (delete as appropriate) "right off their f*****g perch". Kids in Kerry would freshen up on their ABC. Anyone But Cork. Cork folk would probably be – well – themselves; confident and cocky, which is just the way we like them.

The razor-sharp edge would be back. There would be trash-talking in the build-up from both teams (or probably not). We would be YouTubeing clips of Galvin v O'Leary. Or Galvin v Cadogan. And that dust-up between the late Páidí ó Sé and Dinny Allen in 1975; perhaps a perfect precursor to the 'Thrilla in Manila' between those two other fierce rivals Ali and Frazier less than three months later.

The romantic rivalry's dead and gone. Or is it? Since the qualifiers in 2001, Cork and Kerry have played each other 16 times in Munster. Kerry have won seven. Five wins for Cork. Four draws. The average winning/losing margin was four points.

The landscape changed when it came to Croker, though. In the same period, Cork and Kerry met five times in an All-Ireland semi-final (including the drawn game in 2008). The average winning margin for Kerry's four wins was nine points. In the two All-Ireland finals between the pair, Kerry won by 10 points in 2007 and four points in 2009.

So is the Cork-Kerry tug-of-war really just made for Munster? Some southern comfort? Irrespective of ambitions for an All-Ireland, do we just need to enjoy this micro-climate in the Pairc or Fitzgerald Stadium?

Cork versus Kerry reminds me of a line from 'The Thrilla in Manila'. Legend has it that Ali whispered in Frazier's ear: "Joe, they told me you was all washed up." "They lied," Frazier replied, before hitting him a left upper cut.

So, what are you doing this weekend? Me? I'm going to the Munster football final. Wouldn't miss it for the world.


Gillick's enjoying GAA banter after retirement

David Gillick is the latest former professional sports athlete to return to playing Gaelic football. He's due to play for Ballinteer St John's again this weekend. There wasn't much physical contact when he competed in athletics, so he's still getting used to the perks of playing football once more.

And especially to that most beloved of GAA activities – the banter from the sidelines.

I also spoke to Mayo's Colm Boyle this week about the progression of former Connacht rugby star Gavin Duffy with the Mayo squad. He said Duffy has really come on and is pushing the rest of them on in training.

So should Gillick expect a call from Jim Gavin? After watching them canter past Wexford the previous day, Gillick laughed it off, saying maybe in another era.

Yes, well, for the sake of everyone else, the Dubs are probably sorted for rangy, athletic midfelders with plenty of stamina.


Morgan nails reason why bosses won't talk after games

What is it with managers refusing to talk to the media after matches?

Last weekend Armagh boss Paul Grimley snubbed the press after their draw with Monaghan in the Ulster senior football championship semi-final.

A few weeks previously, it was Tyrone manager Mickey Harte who declined interviews following their defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster SFC quarter-final.

Yes, managers may have gripes about decisions, officials etc. But why take it out on the media?

In his autobiography 'Rebel, Rebel', former Cork boss Billy Morgan said: "Keep me away from microphones and reporters straight after a match. I could never switch off the adrenaline and mutter meaninglesss quotes to the press".

Sounds perfect to me.

Irish Independent

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