Dr Crokes to claim insurance policy
County Club SFC Final: Dr Crokes v Kenmare, Sunday September 10, Fitzgerald Stadium, 2.30pm
This really should be one of the biggest days on the domestic calendar and, yet, somehow the senior club championship final never quite feels that way. Probably because it's less of a means in and of itself and more of an insurance policy.
The winner might progress to the Munster championship in mid-October, but only if a district side claims the Bishop Moynihan Cup - although not necessarily always. In 2015 Dingle were club champions, South Kerry county champions and Legion Kerry's representatives in Munster (the county final ending in a draw changed the calculus).
Even last year's clash of the titans, Austin Stacks and Dr Crokes, was soon forgotten when the Crokes claimed the county and Munster titles. Nobody on Lewis Road would have been too cut up about losing out to the Rock in September come December.
If anything Stephen Stack's men did the Crokes a major favour. It was a wake up call they evidently needed and came at just the right time for the club. They haven't looked back since (bar missing out to Rathmore in the O'Donoghue Cup final).
Pat O'Shea and co being as meticulous as they are they won't want a repeat of that this time around. Granted they are a side with their eyes firmly on a return to Munster through the front door as it were, but the insurance policy would be welcome all the same.
It really is quite a daunting task Kenmare face this weekend. The Crokes have shown very little signs of slowing up in the wake of their All Ireland triumph winning all eleven of their county league games this year, making an instant return to the final, booking home advantage along the way.
In the County Championship, meanwhile, they've been nothing short of sensational. In the first round they crushed a highly fancied Mid Kerry and in the winners' round humbled a St Brendans team with a lot of potential by twenty two points, bagging seven goals.
For their part the Shamrocks went close to gaining promotion from Division 2 of the county league. Their championship exploits, however, have been most impressive. Their wins over Kerins O'Rahillys and Legion set them up for a place in this final, while wins over Legion (again and after a replay this time) and Kenmare District saw them straight into a county championship quarter-final.
All in all not bad from a freshly minted senior side. Intermediate champions tend to do well in their first year of senior football, but Kenmare's record and form still probably exceeds expectations.
The reason why is clear - they're still getting better all the time. The trouble is Dr Crokes - who they've yet to face this year - are operating at an entirely higher standard than anybody else at the moment.
It's possible - not altogether that likely from what we've seen so far this year - that they could be caught on a given day, possibly by a district side who've had a chance to build up momentum, but the longer the season progresses the stronger Crokes will get.
That they sailed into a county league final (and a promotion push in Division 4) without their inter-county players (Fionn Fitzgerald and Johnny Buckley) underlines the strength in depth they have at their disposal and it's here that this final is most likely to capture the public's imagination.
There have been loud calls ever since Mayo disposed of the Kingdom in the All Ireland semi-final replay for an infusion of fresh talent into the Kerry senior set-up. In Fitzgerald Stadium this weekend we're going to see some of those players touted for the green and gold.
The name on everybody's lips recently is Seán O'Shea. Should we believe the hype? We'll have a better idea after Sunday. On the Crokes side of the ledger there's Gavin White, Micheál Burns (who missed the U21 semi-final) and Shane Murphy (who will be pushing hard for Brian Kelly's number 1 jersey).
All in all it promises to be a really interesting afternoon's football in the stadium. These are two good teams, both capable of playing a really fine brand of football. Kenmare would, nevertheless, be doing really well to take something from this game.
There's always a chance, but the Crokes do seem to hold the whip hand. After a year of real progress at senior championship level, the likelihood is that the Shamrocks will suffer their first set-back.
Dr Crokes' ambition is to get back to Croke Park, but their strategy to get there is to take every game on its merits. There's hasn't been any real signs of complacency yet this term - having Colm Cooper around driving standards is a massive help - and we wouldn't expect to see any in this final.
Verdict: Dr Crokes