Big two under the spotlight
Munster Club SFC Final: Dr Crokes v Nemo Rangers, Sunday, November 26, Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork at 2pm
With 22 provincial titles between them, there's little doubt that Sunday's Munster Club SFC Final between Nemo Rangers (15 titles) and Dr Crokes (7 titles) is a contest for the elite.
With almost half of the 47 Munster titles between them there is no danger of a fairytale ending in Pairc Ui Rinn as dusk descends on Cork city. Either Dr Crokes win and retain their crown and move four titles clear of the next best placed club in Munster, St Finbarrs of Cork, or Nemo win and regain the title they last held in 2010 and put nine titles between themselves and the Killarney kingpins.
On those stats alone - historical dominance and home from home pitch advantage - it might seem that Nemo would be fancied to win here, but of course a closer look at the roll of honour shows that since that 2010 victory for the Cork club, Dr Crokes have bagged four provincial titles and are looking to make it back-to-back titles now to go with the three-in-a-row from 2011 to 2013. Simple, then?
Not so fast. Yes, reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions, Dr Crokes, will be fancied to retain their provincial title - at least - and it will be hard to look past them on Sunday, despite having to go to Pairc Ui Rinn, which though it isn't Nemo's home in Trabeg, is, nevertheless, a familiar patch of ground that Larry Kavanagh's team have traversed often and to good success.
Nemo manager Kavanagh has said that Crokes "pretty much have an inter-county front six and they can score from anywhere" but he's also honest enough to say his side has "plenty (of) quality too".
Cork players Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly and Barry O'Driscoll are three Nemo men that the Dr Crokes players will know all about, but Alan and Stephen Cronin, and Kevin Fulignati are names that should be familiar to Kerry people also. Former Kerry footballer Tomás Ó Sé won't be available for the Cork champions but former Kerry minor Adrian Greaney, from Blennerville, can be expected to play a part on Sunday having featured as a substitute in the Munster semi-final win over Adare, and the County Final win over St Finbars before that.
Dr Crokes decided to forfeit their East Kerry SFC semi-final against Legion last week such is their determination not to jeopardise this Munster title defence in any way, and they report a full bill of clean health ahead of the game, including goalkeeper Shane Murphy who picked up a head injury in their semi-final win over Kilmurry-Ibrickane, and Alan O'Sullivan, who returns after serving a one-game suspension.
Harry O Neill's involvement with Dr Crokes teams dates back to 1995, and he has been involved at all levels since then, in various capacities, and was part of the backroom team in five of their County Championship wins. He is particularly satisfied with the form the team will be bringing into the decider.
"One of the big things you try to do is improve game from game, particularly at this time of the year," O'Neill said this week. "We were flat in the first half against Clonmel Commercials up there, again it goes back maybe a little bit of not knowing the field and the dimensions of it. It was coming in the same week after we had won the county final, and Clonmel were really up for the game. They were Munster champions the year previous to us. We were sluggish in the first half, but when Alan O'Sullivan was sent off I thought the lads responded really well.
"We got to grips with the game, and the performance here (in Killarney) against Kilmurry-Ibrickane last Sunday week was one of our best performances. So we are delighted with that, it's good to see we are on an upward curve, and, that's what we wanted to do. What we did in the build up to the Nemo game as well is to try and keep the guys moving forward.
"We are very lucky to have the panel we have at the moment. We have a lot of guys on our bench that would probably get on a lot of senior club teams around, and what we have tried to do, and we have set out from day one, is that we ask those guys that are going in at the start to empty the tank and give it everything. And then we are looking for those guys to come in and keep the pace of the game up, and finish the job off for us, or if we need to be dug out of a hole. We have a lot of good guys on the bench and they need game time, need to get in there as well, so it's been working for us, and hopefully it will continue that way."
What does O'Neill think of the attacking firepower that Crokes have and that Nemo will bring to the final and the prospect of a shoot out?
"How many times have people predicted what will happen in a game and got it so wrong. People are probably looking at Nemo versus Dr Crokes, and looking at the two semi-finals, we scored 2-19 they scored 2-17. Nemo's two games against the Barrs, fourteen points all, and I think 4-12 to 2-13, a shoot out in the replay, but as I said both sets of defences have been coached and trained to mark quality forwards all year long. Maybe they will be the guys who will come out on top the next day, and it might be a very tight affair. It could be a low scoring affair, or it could be one of those shoot outs, who knows?"
Finally, despite Dr Crokes recent dominance in Munster and they fact they are defending champions, what does O'Neill think of the tradition and might that Nemo Rangers will bring into the contest?
"These (successful clubs) can be down for a time, but no matter what team comes through, if they get to the top table again and get to finals, then history, tradition and belief, that all clicks back in again. It gives them that extra little bit, so I have no doubt but that the team that were beaten by Clonmel, they were pipped by them up in Mallow a couple of years ago, I often say you have to lose one to win one. They will be looking back on that, trying to learn from any mistakes they made that day, and they certainly won't fear us coming up as Munster champions to Pairc Ui Rinn.
"So, you would be expecting a big challenge from them, and tradition and what it brings, they are still Nemo Rangers, and once any of those players puts on that black and green jersey the next day they are going to believe they can beat us. They are going to bring a huge challenge to us on Sunday.
"It has all of the ingredients of being a fantastic game, but you just don't know until the ball is thrown up on Sunday. Hopefully people will be talking about it for all the right reasons. We will be hoping to come out on top, we will prepare for them, and hopefully we will have done enough."