This is a game Cork don't want to bechasing -- they can't afford to let Down settle
Páidí ó Sé is expecting a free-flowing game this afternoon, and Cork to finally prove their class
I f there ever was an All-Ireland that should, on the face of it, be Cork's for the taking, it is this one. But their success today will depend on those elements that you can't bottle -- real confidence and genuine self-belief.
In real terms, Down are an unknown quantity in the blistering furnace that will be Croke Park today. They might wither in the heat of battle but equally they might maintain their county's extraordinary record of never having lost an All-Ireland final.
Cork, on the other hand, have a more proven track record and one thing that has been proven beyond doubt is their unpredictability. At their best, they are unbeatable but their confidence in their ability to lift the Sam Maguire seems to be a brittle enough thing.
I expect Down to take the field at Croke Park today with swagger and it is up to Cork to confront that head on with a spunkiness and authentic bottle -- especially in the opening minutes.
As we have seen from Down teams in the past, if you don't show your intent to take them on from the start they can crush you.
In going for Cork to win my belief is bolstered by Conor Counihan's decision to include Eoin Cadogan from the start. Cadogan is as accomplished a hurler as he is a footballer and in himself is the epitome of the polish and confidence Cork will need in spades.
My advice to Counihan -- and here I am going to ignore the warning given to me last week by the Cork team doctor, Con Murphy, who said to me, "we won't be looking to Kerry for advice, they could never beat Down" -- would be to have Cadogan mark Benny Coulter. He, with the other corner-forward Martin Clarke, are Down's most dangerous attackers and so the strength of the Cork full-back line of Cadogan, Michael Shields and Ray Carey will be crucial.
I am not too sure that Graham Canty is truly fit for the fray. There were lessons to be learned from Kilkenny's experience with Henry Shefflin and, though I know that Canty's is a different type of injury, I am far from certain he will last the course if he is on from the start. Even though Canty has a readymade replacement in John Miskella, I think it would have been a better decision to have him coming off the bench as an impact substitute. There is no hiding place in an All-Ireland final if you are nursing an injury.
Another vital tussle will be at midfield where I expect Cork's Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh to have the edge. I like the look of Walsh -- he reminds me of Jack O'Shea who, at the same age, had a lot of rough edges to his play that he straightened out with hard work and intelligent assessment. Walsh is very willing and mentally strong and I don't think he will be deterred by the occasion.
His partner Alan O'Connor needs to get off to a good start if he is to have a successful game but my bet is that the Cork pair will prevail over Peter Fitzpatrick and Kalum King. Of course, Nicholas Murphy could well come on as another impact sub but one way or another Cork will dominate midfield.
Up front, Cork's full-forward line will have a tough task in getting the better of Damien Rafferty and Daniel McCartan but if Counihan adheres to the horses for courses principle, he will pick the right combination for the job on the field of play.
As a Kerryman, I naturally regard pedigree as hugely important and the McCartan pedigree and tradition will surely be a psychological advantage to Down but I don't forget that Cork beat Down in last year's under 21 All-Ireland final and that, too, is something to put in the mix.
This is a game that Cork won't want to be chasing -- it is vital that they don't give Down a chance to settle otherwise the northerners will lead them on a merry dance. I expect today's game to be free-flowing and not over robust. It is a unique and great occasion to be enjoyed by the whole island of Ireland. I think Cork are a good bet even at the prohibitive odds of 4/7 with Down at 9/4 and the draw at 15/2.
Win or lose, I am maintaining the tradition of Paddy Bawn Brosnan by bringing some fish from Dingle to the Cork supporters in the Boar's Head in Capel Street tomorrow morning.
Genius is a word that should only be used with great care but Micheál ó Muircheartaigh, who
retires today shortly after his 80th birthday, deserves that accolade to the full. Micheál's wit, passion, encyclopaedic memory and fluency put him in a league of his own among his contemporaries.
To my mind, he and Micheál O'Hehir were the greatest sports broadcasters in our history -- but I have a feeling that we haven't heard the last of him by any means.
And while I'm at it hailing him farewell, I'd like to welcome Mick O'Dwyer's reappointment at Wicklow for another year. Ave, Micko, vale, Micheál!