Colm O'Rourke: Kingdom are too proud to wilt in the heat of battle
Fitzmaurice striving to revitalise ageing golden generation.
The Dubs are casting a long shadow over the championship, as they did over the league. Maybe they have improved again from that campaign, but the hope for the other contenders is that they are not any better, otherwise the pack are playing for second.
Last Sunday showed again how uncompetitive Leinster is and the virus has spread. We better hope for a good Munster final today as the prospects elsewhere are not particularly encouraging. It was never much different, but that is no reason not to try something different, which would have to be better and fairer.
The week has been dominated by players being dropped. Kieran Donaghy may not have the international appeal of Brian O'Driscoll, but it is big news. When something like this happens the manager's judgment is called into question, but nobody knows what is happening night after night in training, so when a big call is made there is usually a reason – and that is not always the reason given.
It is a major decision by Eamonn Fitzmaurice and it takes courage to do it, yet the best time to make this sort of call is in a manager's first year. Anyway, Donaghy will appear at some time unless Kerry are playing games with the team announcement – which would not be like them – and looking at the Cork subs, Kerry are a bit light by comparison.
I often made the point in the past that every team should have their strongest 15 on the field at the end as tight championship games are decided in the last quarter, few are won in the first. Now of course that can look silly too if good players are introduced too late, but a balance between starting and finishing is useful. Most teams just don't have the personnel for such extravagance, they are lucky to have a good 15 and are hoping that nobody gets injured or plays very poorly. It is another reason why gaps have emerged between counties. The few big guns have panels, not just teams, and five subs works very much to their advantage.
Cork have decided to backload their team for today. Alan O'Connor, Aidan Walsh, Ciaran Sheehan and Donnacha O'Connor would all get on about 28 county teams and if Cork are good enough to win without them today, then they are some team. It is more likely that a couple will be on before half-time and the others by the three-quarter stage – unless Cork have contracted the disease of naming a dummy team. I give them more credit for cleverness than that sort of rubbish.
In many respects the Cork changes are forced. A dominant side in the league over the past five years has yielded one All-Ireland so the template was not working for the championship. Obviously the decision was also made not to try and teach too many old dogs new tricks, so James Loughrey, Damian Cahillane, Tomás Clancy, John O'Rourke and Brian Hurley are brought in to try and play in a more sophisticated way – short for a packed defence – something Cork have not been good at. They preferred to play in a more orthodox fashion but few will oblige them in that manner anymore.
One of the casualties is Noel O'Leary and it is a pity that he is not around. Having him and Paul Galvin going at each other like two rutting stags added to the gaiety of the viewing public. Yet both are players with big hearts and the sort of never-say-die spirit that every team needs.
Galvin still has plenty of old friends to bump into and he has to make a bigger impact on the game in terms of winning breaking ball and scoring rather than just picking up some loose ball around the middle or taking short passes. That is the bonus stuff, the other part is where you earn your corn.
The big worry for Kerry is that a lot of the team have grown old together – Gooch, Declan O'Sullivan, the ó Sé brothers. The manager's job was to revitalise them mentally and emotionally rather than anything new in a football sense. The immediate view is that it has worked and the one sure thing is that, after an hour in this furnace, we will get the answer.
In today's extreme conditions, every fibre of a man's being is tested, every weakness exposed, every question answered, and not always in a nice way. It is games like this that often sends the best of men off into a long retirement. Even if the body is willing, sometimes the mind is not, the nerve needed to be a big-game winner can go.
Kerry need to get at the Cork full-back line. They have to carry the ball and take on their men as they are three very good players, but a bit Rambo-like in tackling and they will give away plenty of frees. Maybe that is why Darran O'Sullivan is in there, he will run at them and a point from a handy free is the same as a massive point from play. It may not be that simple as Cork will have Graham Canty as an extra back and maybe John O'Rourke too. It will surely lead to a lot of lateral handpassing by both sides and people in Ulster will wonder what all the fuss over their championship is about. Quite right too, apart from one side in blue who are writing new rules of engagement.
Paul Kerrigan will provide the pace in the Cork attack, Daniel Goulding the scores while Paddy Kelly has had the sublety and work rate but needs a return to the form of a few years ago when he was in three places at once and doing great work in all three.
With Kerry introducing Mark Griffin at full-back and Shane Enright at corner-back, Cork might feel they will profit there, but the ó Sés are around to ride shotgun and if you had these two as sidekicks you would not mind going out to rob the stage coach every day. Tomás will likely hang back early on, there are only so many charges forward any man can make under a blazing sun and there is no point in emptying the tank in the first half.
At midfield, the battle of the giants is between Anthony Maher and Pearse O'Neill, Johny Buckley and Graham Canty are the hoovers and there will hardly be half a dozen clean catches. Anyway, both goalies will kick long and short to try and gain best advantage and the midfield rucks might be fewer as a result.
There are a lot of good reasons why Cork should win this. They have a younger team for the most part and a much better subs' bench. Kerry are nearing the end with a golden crew, yet maybe Fitzmaurice has come along at the right time and given them a new energy. They will need it all in the sweltering heat and there is too much pride in the jersey for these Kerry players to be counted out in Killarney.
A home win this time, but Cork are not going away either.