Enough is enough - it's now time the Rebels fronted up

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

David Moran of Kerry during last year's GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kerry and Galway
David Moran of Kerry during last year's GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kerry and Galway

Damian Stack

We've had enough. All of us have had enough. Cork people have had enough. Kerry people have had enough. Neutrals have had enough. It's time somebody shouted stop. It's time we had a Munster final worthy of the name.

It's been four years since the last competitive Munster final - the 2015 draw in Fitzgerald Stadium - and in that time with each subsequent year all the life and the colour and the excitement has drained out of the annual joust for the cup with no name.

For those of us reared on Munster finals between Cork and Kerry it's been a dispiriting period of time. No butterflies in the stomach on the way to the stadium, just an air on inevitability to the whole thing. Ho-hum.

None of this, it goes without saying, is Kerry's fault. They've been peerless - literally so - in the Munster championship for the past five seasons. No the fault, such as it is, lies with Cork.

They're the ones who've let standards slip, they're the ones who've failed to keep pace. They're the ones who go into this game with something to prove, to themselves and to everyone else.

The mood music from across the county bounds is about as positive as we can remember in quite some time. There's a real bullishness and an assertiveness to some of what you hear.

No they're not making foolish declarations that they're - in the famous words of Ger Loughane at half-time in the 1995 All Ireland hurling final - going to do it, instead they're acknowledging the need to front up. These Cork footballers are as annoyed about the present state of affairs as we are. They're sore about it. Good. They should be.

Even since Fionn Fitzgerald's wonder point into the Lewis Road end four years ago they've been on a downward spiral... up until a few weeks ago at least that was the case. Despite their relegation to Division 3, there have been stirrings that maybe, just maybe - and thank the deity above for it - Cork are on the way back.

The Rebels were the first team to beat Dublin in a challenge match in years when they met in Kilkenny after the league. They beat Galway in Gort. They beat Carlow and Laois and they took that form with them into the Munster semi-final with Limerick earlier this month.

The manner in which Cork dismantled Limerick in Páirc Uí Rinn - Páirc Uí Chaoimh was off limits due to a Rod Stewart concert - made a lot of people stand up and take notice of the Rebels for the first time in a long time.

An early blitz saw Cork put 3-7 on the board before Limerick got up and running twenty six minutes in. It was heads up, intelligent, exciting football with Ruairí Deane at centre-forward seeming to pull the strings. The ball he dinked for Brian Hurley's first goal four minutes was near sublime.

Cork were aggressive, they were confident, they had a clear idea of what they were about, which is not something you could always say about them in their games with the Kingdom in Munster this decade.

All in all this was and is hugely encouraging stuff. Debutants impressed. Eoghan McSweeney bagged three points from play. Nathan Walsh looked assured at corner-back. Experienced players took ownership of the team.

Brian Hurley's return to championship football and to form, meanwhile, is something they've been crying out for on Leeside. Both his goals were brilliantly executed. If Cork are to stand any chance of putting it up to Kerry this weekend they'll need him in that sort of form again.

The health warning on all of this is obvious. Challenge matches are challenge matches, read into them what you will, just don't take them to the bank. Limerick, meanwhile despite their surprise win over Tipperary, are just not a good side.

The Treaty were second from bottom in the basement division of the National League. A victory over them is not a lot to set store by ahead of a Munster final against a team who won six of eight games in Division 1 at the same time Cork were being relegated from the second tier.

True enough Cork's form picked up in the latter part of the campaign - they beat a handy enough Armagh side on the road on the final day of the league season - but Cork still have a hell of a lot to prove before they can be considered at the same level as or even pretenders to the Kingdom.

There's probably been an over-reaction to Kerry's struggles - and that's a relative term - in Ennis in their semi-final. For one thing Clare are arguably the second best team in Munster right now - league form would seem to bear this out.

For another Kerry went into that game without a number of likely starters from this weekend. It's expected that Jack Barry will resume a role at midfield after his recent injury. Paul Murphy is practically nailed down to return to the half-back line, while Dara Moynihan will be in with a real shout of a place at half-forward.

David Moran, meanwhile, obviously started the game in Ennis and looked really sharp while he was on the pitch. His early black card, however, cost Kerry dearly, especially in the second half when Gary Brennan and Cathal O'Connor took over around the middle third.

On top of that when Kerry were good in Cusack Park, they were very, very good indeed. The movement of the forward unit was excellent and they could easily have nabbed a couple of early goals à la Cork against Limerick and had they done so there would have been none of the strum und drang that followed their disappointing second half display.

All logic points towards this being another win for Kerry, certainly not by the margin of twelve months ago, but there is enough evidence to suggest that this might - and until it happens we're not willing to go further than that - be a more competitive affair.

Could Cork win? Of course they could. What sort of a chance would we give them? No more than a twenty five to thirty percent change, which all things considered isn't bad at all. If you were of the blood and bandage persuasion you'd be happy enough with that.

More than anything else though what we want - Cork and Kerry alike - is a good game of football, a competitive game of football. We want and need Cork to rattle Kerry, otherwise really and truly what's the point?

Verdict: Kerry

Kerryman

News