Monday 11 December 2017

Five questions facing Cork and Kerry ahead of the Munster Final replay

Fionn Fitzgerald kicks the equalising point in the dying seconds of the Munster SFC final in Killarney
Fionn Fitzgerald kicks the equalising point in the dying seconds of the Munster SFC final in Killarney
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Old rivals Cork and Kerry will do battle yet again this weekend to settle provincial bragging rights. Will the Rebels finish the job off or can the Kingdom claim their 77th title?

Here are five questions that will be answered in Killarney this weekend.

Same Cork, different story?

One of the long-standing criticisms of the Cork footballers, something that has been thrown at the Rebels long before Brian Cuthbert took over from Conor Counihan, was the consistency of performance.

Despite an All-Ireland title in 2010 and success in the National League, the Leesiders have undoubtedly failed to deliver on the undoubted potential of the squad.

Cuthbert inherited a squad with a number of high-profile departures, but two impressive National League campaigns have been undone spectacularly by Dublin in the knock-out stages, while supporters need little reminder on what transpired last year at the same stage of the championship.

It's something we're working on and have tried to rectify, but we'll have to go back to the drawing board again

Can they back up the performance from the drawn match to prove they are serious contenders for silverware in September, or was it a case of another opportunity missed to end their hoodoo in Killarney?

Midfield battle

Any doubts regarding Alan O'Connor after an 18-month retirement at inter-county level were quickly dismissed with a 70-minute tour-de-force in Fitzgerald Stadium.

Centre-field has been an obvious problem area in recent years for Cork. Ian Maguire looks a great prospect but has been hampered by an extended period on the sidelines, Ruairi Deane has had to contend with serious knee injuries, while Fintan Goold looks more at home further up the field. The loss of Aidan Walsh to the hurling camp has also been a huge blow.

The performances of Cork footballer Alan O’Connor, right, and hurler Brian Murphy haven’t been affected by their long absences from the gruelling requirements of being part of a senior inter-county squad

O'Connor and Kevin O'Driscoll, another who often operates on the half-forward line, were dominant last time out, but one would expect a huge improvement from their opponents.

Anthony Maher will push for a starting spot, while a black card for David Moran compounded a difficult day at the office for their primary ball winners.

In Kerry, the county comes first - the downside is that players like Anthony Maher will now have to play North Kerry football after a tough inter-county season

Maher would be a more like-for-like match on O'Connor, though Bryan Sheehan offers accurate passing, plus deadly placed ball skills.

Blanket defences and short kick-outs have meant midfield battles have changed dramatically in recent years, but the visitors demonstrated what an impact the men in the middle can exert on proceedings.

More from Kerry's marquee forwards?

The sight of Colm Cooper on the bench surely warmed the hearts of the Cork supporters last time out, but will he be given his opportunity this weekend from the off? He scored just a point in 27 minutes as he slowly found his way back at this level, so Eamon Fitzmaurice may be holding him in reserve for Croke Park.

James O'Donoghue, a real thorn in the Cork side over the last number of seasons, was another who will look to improve, though his contentious penalty was finished with aplomb.

James O'Donoghue, Kerry, scores his side's second goal from a penalty.

Kieran Donaghy not surprisingly caused havoc under the high ball, while Tommy Walsh will hope to showcase his talents in the green and gold.

A worry for Cuthbert will be that he will be only keenly aware that his defenders can expect to be under more pressure when the sides clash on Saturday.

Sweeping changes for Cork?

Paul Kerrigan had just 22 minutes in the sweeper role before a black card ended his afternoon's work, but was quietly effective in the role. Castlehaven's Mark Collins too shone in his now customary deeper position, while substitute Paddy Kelly was calmness personified after his introduction.

The question for Cuthbert is how to set-up his counter-attacking strategy against a Kerry management that has faced questions over their failure to deal with Cork's runners from deep.

Cork's Mark Collins, 3rd from right, reacts as referee Padraig Hughes awards a penalty to Kerry

It is likely to be same again for Cuthbert, so the onus will be on Eamon Fitzmaurice to devise a game-plan that ensures his defence are not left exposed. They shipped three goals in Killarney and after another leaky National League campaign, know they must tighten up at the back if they are to repeat their 2014 success.

Does Eamon Fitzmaurice know his best 15?

In many ways, it is the selection headache that most managers would crave. With an embarrassment of riches up front and serious competition in defence, it could be argued that the All-Ireland winning manager is still trying to find the right formula.

Does the Gooch make a return to the starting line-up? Fionn Fitzgerald was the last-gasp hero, but struggled for a couple of the Cork goals, so could Paul Murphy come into the team following his shoulder injury? Can Paul Geaney or Tommy Walsh force their way in? Should Anthony Maher get the nod in midfield?

Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Kerry manager

One of the most thoughtful coaches in the game, Fitzmaurice will leave nothing to chance as they look to put down a serious marker for Sam Maguire.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport