Monday 22 July 2019

Underdog Rebels can upset Kingdom

Munster SFC Final: Cork v Kerry, Saturday June 22, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork. Throw-in at 7pm. Ref: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)

Diarmuid Sheehan

Kerry go in search of their seventh successive Munster Senior football title this Saturday night against the old foes Cork, who have in recent years become the perennial whipping boys in the provincial showpiece game - however 2019 may well be a different story.

For those outside the county of Kerry the annual playing down of their side's chances for both this and every other fixture does get a little tiresome, however, at this stage you would begin to feel sorry for the person charged with coming up with the reasons why one of the best sides in the land may not beat Cork - usually going on to dish out a pretty good hiding.

Cork have had their chances in this fixture in the last few years however the result has ultimately gone the way of the red-hot favourites each time since Cork's last provincial title win back in 2012. In fact, you have to go back to 2008 to find the last time that Cork beat Kerry in the Munster Final - that success was by five points 1-16 to 1-11.

This year you would be either brave, foolish or have something like an inside line to the almighty to predict that things are going to go differently on Saturday night - and while I would like to think I am not foolish and I definitely don't have God's phone number I do believe that this time round we are going to see something different.

Cork come into this fixture after hammering Limerick in the semi-final and while that may not seem like the best indicator when one is about to face Kerry, the truth is that the manner of the performance against the treaty side was much more telling than the final score line could ever be.

Cork played with aggression, passion, skill and no shortage of confidence when they played the side that had sent Tipperary packing just a few weeks previous.

Cork looked sharp and lean and looked like a side that could have easily put up another seven or eight points if they had so wished but on that night but they were content taking the comfortable win.

Cork's performance against Limerick will really only be spoken about again if they can beat or run Kerry close and this weekend some (and I include myself as one of that some) believe the former is possible.

Cork may be coming into this one after the disappointment of getting relegated to Division 3 of the National Football League, but since before that demotion the Rebels have been a much different side. No more double sweepers, no more defending like an already beaten side and no more negativity around the camp.

Cork have won eight of their last nine games with a host of highly publicised wins under their belts and, while we all know challenges count for nothing when the medals are being dished out, they are a great way to work through the issues and build up a bit of confidence.

Cork have a huge challenge ahead but they have the players to do it. Players of the calibre of Brian Hurley, Ruairí Deane, Ian Maguire, James Loughrey and Mark Collins have all been here too many times and speaking to at least three of that quintet in recent weeks it is clear that they are all just fed-up of losing.

Confidence is one thing but sheer bloody mindedness is an attribute that should never be underestimated. Cork's top stars want to win next weekend for many reasons but top of that list is because they know they are better than people think they are.

They know they have what it takes to win this game and they know that for some of them questions will be asked about their futures if this game goes the same way as last season's final.

Cork will need to deal with Seán O'Shea, Paul Geaney, David Clifford and David Moran, to name just four, but if they can hold the line against those key players then they have a serious chance.

Moran and Diarmuid O'Connor may well be a serious midfield pairing, but Cork have Maguire and Killian O'Hanlon who between them have all the attributes required to not only hold their own but to excel in what is likely to be a key battle ground.

Regardless of what I, or any Cork player says, the Rebels will go into this home Munster Final as clear underdogs and they will need to buck the trend of what has been a very unimpressive run in championship football that has seen them fail to beat a top eight side since 2012.

Saturday night will be a hugely significant night for Munster football. The competition needs someone to challenge Kerry and Kerry need someone to put it up to them before their annual run in the Super 8s.

A Cork win this weekend will benefit football for all in the province and while Kerry may not agree with that at present there is nothing more that Kerry people want than the return of a serious challenge from nearest neighbours.

Verdict: Going against the consensus and predict Cork to win by two points