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Ciaran Whelan: Fired up rebels to stress test the Kingdom


Kieran Donaghy

Kieran Donaghy

Kieran Donaghy

You can only kick a sleeping dog so many times before it bites back. Cork football has taken a kicking in recent years and in many ways it has been justified.

Destroyed by their rivals, the Kingdom, in the last two Munster finals combined with a couple of league implosions against the Dubs in Croke Park has left them on the scrapheap going into Sunday's latest provincial decider with Kerry in Killarney.

Cork are written off in all quarters. There will be only one winner I hear you say. Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have a plan and Kerry will win their 77th Munster title at their ease. All sounds so simple.

Something tells me though that the sleeping dog might just wake up this Sunday. Brian Cuthbert and his team have taken a lot of criticism in recent months but to their credit they have kept their heads down. They have not reacted and they are waiting in the long grass. They need to show some character and pride and if than means meeting fire with fire, then so be it.

It still remains to be seen though whether their bark is worse than their bite but I expect Cork will ask some questions of the All-Ireland champions on Sunday. In a week where the issue of abuse from fans has garnished a lot of media attention it reminded me of my last trip to the Munster Final in Killarney.

I was lucky enough to be in Killarney two years ago and remember having to go through the stands at the dressing room end in order to take up my position on pitch side for RTé.


This gave the Cork fans the opportunity to hurl abuse in my direction and I remember thinking "Jeez what have I done to rile these lads". I quickly reflected on my career games against Cork wondering who I had hit and what I did that could lead to this tirade of abuse.

Then it dawned on me that it was simply for two reasons. Firstly, I was from the real capital - Dublin - and secondly, I realised I had never experienced the Cork football fans face to face before because they do not bother going to most of their team's games!

I was amazed by the amount of Cork supporters in Killarney that day and as I got to the gate at the bottom of the terrace, I was approached by a man who carried a portly stature and looked like he was on his tenth pint of Guinness.

"Go back to Dublin you big useless f**ker" came the onslaught from my Rebel friend.

Usually I would have the head down and say nothing but I quickly turned to him and kindly replied "thanks for coming; your hurlers must be playing here today are they?" End of conversation!

Munster final days in Killarney are special days and it is the one game the Cork fans actually travel to support their football team.

It remains to be seen whether their supporters will travel in the same numbers this weekend. I am sure they will though because there is more to Killarney than just football.

Whilst there was a carnival atmosphere around Killarney two years ago, it was certainly not mirrored in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year.

Cork were simply appalling as Kerry took a wrecking ball to them. Tactically Fitzmaurice blitzed Cuthbert and they dominated midfield, with Declan O'Sullivan pulling the strings behind his half-back line.


Cork were left floundering and their lack of fight in the second half left many wondering where was their pride in the jersey. I am sure the aftermath of that game hurt the players. Hurt them badly no doubt.

A year on and if Cork want to salvage some pride they need to answer their critics. Whether they have the tools to do so is still questionable. Yes, they possess a dangerous forward line who will do damage if they are given good ball into space.

However, their problems are at the other end of the field. The primary issue is their inability to compete in midfield and the return of Alan O'Connor for Cork indicates that this is still a problem area for Cuthbert. Kerry dominated this sector last year which gave them a platform for victory.

The problems in midfield have forced Cork into an erratic kickout strategy combining short with long that has lacked conviction and put them on the back foot in defence. Dublin showed up this evident weakness in the league final when they pushed up and pressurised the Cork sweepers coming out with the ball.

As regards Kerry it really depends on their state of mind going into this game. Complacency can never be ruled out as they are All-Ireland champions and they are expected to win. It is 20 years since Cork came out of Killarney with a win under their belts.

Having said that I would expect that Fitzmaurice will have his troops well prepared. Kerry have the versatility to tailor their game-plans for specific opposition and Fitzmaurice has the tactical nous to implement them which has been the key to his success as a manager.

The added dimension of Kieran Donaghy on the square with Colm Cooper pulling the strings this year will give them another option to deliver long ball deep into dangerous territory.

Defensively Kerry may still be a bit suspect and Cork will need both Colm O'Neill and Brian Hurley to be very economical with any ball that comes their way.

Midfield dominance though will be crucial and I fail to see how Cork can get the required control in this area. All I know is that if Cork win on Sunday, I would love to be a fly on the wall following Tomás ó Sé for the following week down in the Rebel County. It would be some craic!

Will they do it? I expect a spirited Cork performance but they will still come up short against a prepared Kerry team.


I quickly turned to him and kindly replied 'thanks for coming; your hurlers must be playing here today are they?' End of conversation!