Monday 11 December 2017

Eoin Liston: Kingdom on guard as wounded Rebels are at their most dangerous

Paul Kerrigan on the charge against Tipperary. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Paul Kerrigan on the charge against Tipperary. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

It always drove Cork players and management crazy when Mick O'Dwyer would venture into the Rebel dressing-room after a titanic Munster SFC clash and tell them that they were the "second best team in the country".

They thought he was rubbing salt into the wounds after defeat, but it wasn't said in jest and if there had been a back -door back in the '70s and '80s, I'm convinced that there would have been several Cork and Kerry All-Ireland final meetings.

My last five Munster finals all ended in disappointment against Cork, and even when we were winning All-Irelands, they often provided the stiffest opposition and were our hardest games. It was high pressure and you were never more stressed than the week you played Cork.

Ambrose O'Donovan made a speech before the '84 Munster final and I'll never forget him saying "it's alright for ye lads in north Kerry but in the pubs at home we drink with them, we meet them at work and there's bragging rights for all people living along the borders".

For those in places like Gneeveguilla and Rathmore, it means everything, and if Kerry win they'd outnumber them five to one in the pubs, and vice versa. There was an awful lot at stake and there still is: it really hurts to lose to Cork.

There was never anything between us back then and with top-class players like Larry Tompkins, Niall Cahalane, Stephen O'Brien and Kevin Kehily, it was the hop of a ball that often made the difference.

I remember shooting for the bottom right-hand corner in one game after rehearsing a certain move in my head for weeks beforehand, and the ball somehow ended up in the top left corner.

Another day Mark Healy beat me to a ball near the sideline. But whatever way I put out my hand the ball just rolled up it and when I turned I was clean inside him.

Lucky breaks regularly decided those games and the memory of '83 comes to mind as Sunday's final looms large. We had been pipped for five in a row and were out to rectify it the following year, and Cork beat us. We had a brilliant team and went on to win another three in a row but that day they got it right and caught us. That was a killer.

It really hurts Cork that Kerry have pulled away, but their best chance is that they don't have any chance according to the Cork supporters, and I can understand why because of their abysmal form against Waterford and the first half against Tipperary.

As I watched them stumble their way through the opening half against Tipp I couldn't help but wonder 'what has happened?'. They rectified it and looked a different team after the break.

They have taken an awful lot of criticism but in cases like that, providing there's an honesty and a leadership in the group, you can get a performance that's totally out of the blue.

Their hurlers did it against Tipperary last month and they'll be clinging to that. Two years ago in Killarney, they should have beaten us. They bossed affairs and we robbed them at the death.

Cork haven't become bad overnight; a lot of those players are still there and they won't have any fear of Kerry. I'm expecting Kerry to win but we're not going to be leaving at half-time or anything ridiculous like that.

The Kerry jersey does something to Cork people and there's no pressure on them. They'll be very competitive at midfield with Aidan Walsh and Co, and have pace in attack with Paul Kerrigan, Sean Powter and Michael Hurley.

They'll be outrageously fit, and Kerry's performance against Clare definitely wouldn't frighten you, especially the first half. Peadar Healy will be saying 'if we can hold James O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney we have a great chance'.

They have quality defenders like James Loughrey and Michael Shields who could keep them quiet.

After the euphoria of the League final, Kerry got the fright they needed against Clare, and when it was put up to them in the second half they responded despite being down a man against the wind.

Cork fans don't know what to expect because they've played so poorly and are nearly embarrassed, 'Oh God are we gone that low?' and they're afraid to show any optimism but there's a deep-rooted pride in Cork and they would give anything to see Kerry being turned over.

We all know the talent is there but there seems to be something missing.

I was amazed to see Cork playing club championship two weeks ago - there's no way that would happen in Kerry. They give an awful lot of support to the management in Kerry; I don't know are Cork getting that level of support. Preparation for the county senior football team in Kerry supersedes everything but it's not the same in Cork.

With that being said, Kerry will not underestimate Cork and they'll know that a wounded Rebel is the most dangerous Rebel.

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