Eoin Liston: Team itself always last to realise when great era at an end
Today may be remembered as one of the most significant in GAA history. The greatest hurling team we have ever known could be sent packing by the second week of July.
I wouldn't dare write off Brian Cody's Kilkenny, and even if they do go down to Tipperary, who would bet against them coming back and reclaiming their crown next summer? But it may well be end of an era.
I can't help but think back to 1987, and our defeat to Cork that marked the end of Mick O'Dwyer's golden age with the Kerry footballers. I have tried hard to extinguish those games from the memory, but I can still recall the hurt. I can't stress enough just how massive it was playing Cork. The pressure was enormous. The All-Ireland final was never as intense in the build-up because there was such a buzz getting there, and the camaraderie and excitement carried us into September.
In Munster against the Rebels, though, the winner really did take all: the provincial title, the bragging rights for the fans... and the losers had to wait a full year to try and make it right.
We drew with Cork in 1987 and we were lucky to do so. Mikey Sheehy and Mike McAuliffe played a one-two before Mikey toe-poked it under John Kearns to put us a point up in the final seconds and I can still see the devastation in the Cork faces. Billy Morgan was forlorn on the ground with his head in the grass and Ger Power started doing pull ups on the crossbar with excitement!
They managed to get the ball down the field, though, and win a free that Larry Tompkins popped over to save them. We had gone from elation at thinking we had won the game playing so poorly, to disappointment that we didn't hold our concentration to see it out. The replay turned out to be Mikey's last game, but we didn't realise that it was all coming to an end.
The belief remained that we were still the best, we were training hard and had ourselves prepared both mentally and physically. A team is always the last to know when their time is up.
I had been down in Waterville with Micko in the build-up to the replay, and he was trying to teach me how to kick frees. Suddenly, at half-time, he suggested to Mikey that if he were to miss another placed ball, he should give me the next one. Lets just say the result wasn't what I would have hoped for.
Not only did my effort not leave the ground, it ended up about 10 yards inside the corner flag!
The pressure got to me. We were well beaten in the finish and that Cork team went on to dominate for the a number of years.
It's almost impossible to describe how a player can feel sitting in the dressing-room waiting for the throw-in in these clashes. The butterflies are thumping, the legs are like lead and your lungs feel like they will burn up inside you.
The stakes aren't quite so high tomorrow, but there are a number of young players on both sides who will be experiencing this for the first time. And this is where the result will be decided.
How will players like Peter Crowley, Shane Enright, Mark Griffin and Johnny Buckley deal with going out in front of an expectant home crowd? Similarly, will the new fellas Conor Counhihan has introduced handle the pressure of entering the lion's den of Killarney, where no Cork side has won since 1995?
What Cork do have in the team are goal-getters. Brian Hurley looks a real find, while Daniel Goulding is back to his best and they have Ciaran Sheehan to spring from the bench if they need to change things.
I fully expect Aidan Walsh to start in the middle of the field but Kerry have the advantage there. Anthony Maher is in terrific form and so too is Johnny Buckley, while David Moran and Bryan Sheehan are also in tip-top shape should they be called upon.
I have already documented my concerns regarding the absence of Kieran Donaghy, and how it takes away the option of long, direct ball to combat Cork's defensive wall.
I am still quietly confident that Kerry will win. With Colm Cooper on the '40' and the type of form he's in, the only way of stopping him is to foul him. He will provide the ammunition for Darran O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue to exploit Cork with their pace, with the class of Declan O'Sullivan there to add further headaches. I am tipping a home win, but the value bet for the neutral may lie in the draw.