Emotions run high ahead of showdown

Ralph Riegel

IT'S a rivalry that traces its roots back to the old cross-border cattle raids of the ancient Gaelic clans.

But today in Croke Park, Cork would willingly swap all the prized cattle grazing from Ballydesmond to Youghal for just one priceless chance to lift the Sam Maguire Cup at the expense of their old rivals and Gaelic football aristocrats Kerry.

More than 60,000 fans will flock out of Kerry and Cork for the All-Ireland decider -- with virtually every bus, train and plane service to Dublin booked out.

The second all-Munster All-Ireland in just three years has delivered a welcome tourism bonanza for Dublin with spending in excess of €10m predicted for today.

All-Ireland final tickets are now so priceless for Rebel and Kingdom fans that they are changing hands at up to €500 per pair -- to the glee of fans from other counties.

Border communities have revelled in the build-up -- with Ballydesmond and Millstreet a sea of red and white -- while, just across the county bounds, Rathmore and Lauragh are bedecked in the Kingdom's green, white and gold.

Such is the rivalry -- and close connections -- between the two counties, that even schools are split straight down the middle with their loyalties.

In Millstreet, the rivalry has been given a little 'divine' twist by the fact that while the town is proudly located in Cork -- in all spiritual matters it belongs to the diocese of Kerry.

Parish priest Canon Declan O'Connor admitted the divided loyalties have added a good-humoured edge to today's showdown -- but, unlike many of his parishioners, he will be cheering on Kerry.

Ballydaly native Jerry Lehane, even used the fevered border rivalry to pen a classic poem dubbed 'The Plastic Kerryman' -- the moral of which is that if you're on the Rebel side of the border you'd better cheer on Cork or relocate back to the Kingdom.

In Ballyphehane, in the heart of Cork city, a jersey day by staff and pupils saw the Rebels' 'blood-and-bandages' jersey proudly matched by the school's three Kerry-born teachers.

Families have even been divided on the issue -- with Cork-born musician Liam O'Connor, who lives in Kerry, cheering on the Rebels, while his three children, Cillian (4), Oisin (8) and Saoirse (10), will be supporting the green, white and gold.

Such is the intense interest in the Munster football battle that even models have got in on the act, with Miss Kerry, Adele O'Herlihy, posing with Miss Cork, Etaoin O hAilpin, as part of the big match build-up.

But Etaoin is adamant that Cork can finally end their 19-year wait to bring Sam Maguire back to his 'birthplace' -- and, as sister to three famous Cork stars, Setanta, Aisake and Sean Og O hAilpin, she knows a thing or two about the GAA.

Stars of yesteryear have also weighed in with their own predictions -- with Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Denis Walsh, Larry Tompkins and Tomas Mulcahy confident that Cork can end Kerry's Croke Park jinx and deliver their seventh all-Ireland football title.

"It is a wonderful time for Cork football and I think the younger players will go into the match with no fear.

"There is a pool of talent out there that Cork hasn't had for a long time -- and the lads will be thinking that if they can beat Kerry at U-21 level there is no reason they can't do it at senior level," Jimmy Barry-Murphy said.

But Kerry stars, including Jimmy Deenihan, Paidi O Se and Jack O'Shea, are convinced that Sam will be heading back to the Kingdom for a record 36th time.

Jack O'Shea argued that the Kerry veterans could prove decisive in what is expected to be a tightly fought game.

"I just think that Kerry's experience will stand to them when it matters most. I know a few of the Cork lads are going into their first All-Ireland final," he said.

Not surprisingly, the only thing that all former Kingdom and Rebel stars agree on is that it won't be a 10-point winning margin like it was back in 2007.