Tuesday 17 September 2019

Sinéad Kissane: 'If Cork and Kerry were two Love Island chancers they wouldn't be more different'

Sean White shows his dejection following Cork’s defeat at the hands of Kerry last year. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean White shows his dejection following Cork’s defeat at the hands of Kerry last year. Photo: Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

When the losing margin being inflicted on Cork by Kerry was tumbling towards a record number in last summer's Munster Senior Football Championship final, the Cork supporter sitting in front of us with his two kids didn't mention the word 'Corkness' but that other 'c' word.

He must have sensed that his kids wanted to leave Páirc Uí Chaoimh along with some other Cork folk who were already drifting out the gates long before the full-time whistle.

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Kerry would go on to record a 17-point hammering of Cork which had all the taste of eating a toffee still in the wrapper. After Paul Geaney scored his second goal late in the second half, the man in front of us sat resolutely in his seat and told his kids that they were staying put because watching this game was "character-building".

When Cork GAA released their '#2024 - A Five-Year Plan for Cork Football' in January, rebooting their characteristic of 'Corkness' was one of the ambitions.

As a Kerry person, reading an explanation of what 'Corkness' was, was in itself, very anti-'Corkness'. Since when did Cork feel the need to explain who they are to themselves?

But these were desperate times in Cork and their identity was laid out in their new manifesto: "Cork GAA success has contributed hugely to those essential elements of 'Corkness' recognisable to all our rivals: that air of confidence just on the right side of arrogance, an unparalleled pride in our county and our insatiable desire for Cork to be the best at absolutely everything."

Identity becomes more clear through the metric of comparison. Cork and Kerry have a unique dynamic because there are few other neighbouring counties whose notions of identity are made out to be more different than these two.

What came first: the republic or the kingdom? Cork's 'Corkness' or Kerry's 'cute-hoorism'? It's yet to be scientifically documented but you can bet that as soon as one county decided what it was going to be, the other county became the exact opposite.

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And you wouldn't have it any other way - Cork magnify Kerry's characteristics and Kerry magnify Cork's. Where's the fun in our attempts to play ourselves down in Kerry if it doesn't come against Cork's "just-on-the-right-side-of-arrogance" kind of confidence? It would be a sad day to see Cork lose their arrogance because it would take away from our (smug) humility in Kerry - and who'd want that.

If Cork and Kerry were two Love Island chancers they wouldn't be more different. Cork would be Maura, telling it as it is while keeping one eye on herself in the mirror and the other eye on her next target.

Kerry would be a late withdrawal from the show because of fears over what others in the county would think of their notions. But they'd be sure to tell you how much they would have hated all the attention, while lapping up all the attention.

When it comes to football, and Cork fans will hate this because they will view it as pure self-interest (which it is), Kerry needs Cork more than ever.

Inflated Beating Cork by 3-18 to 2-4 - which was Kerry's biggest championship win over them since 1938 - was a false economy. Kerry became over-inflated contenders, lost to Galway at Croke Park in the first round of the 'Super 8s', needed a late David Clifford goal to save a draw against Monaghan in Clones in the second round before their summer bottomed-out with a win in Killarney over Kildare which meant little because of Monaghan's win over Galway in Salthill.

Kerry currently occupy a no-man's land that no-one else in the country will rightly give a crap about. Kerry are too successful to celebrate a provincial title with a pitch invasion but not good enough to win a big game in Croke Park in the last few years against a real contender, not to mention winning an All Ireland.

Who didn't envy the way the Rossies celebrated on the pitch after their Connacht final win last weekend? The last time Kerry folk ran onto a pitch with any gusto was that All Ireland semi-final replay win over Mayo at the Gaelic Grounds in 2014.

What lit the fuse for that championship was going to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Munster final with a real fear that Kerry were about to get beaten by Cork. But James O'Donoghue and Kerry had other ideas which gave the first indication of what was possible for Kerry that summer.

The idea that Kerry supporters care more about Cork football than Cork folk might seem outlandish but the truth in it lies in the argument that Kerry need Cork to become a force again for their own selfish reasons.

A one-sided provincial championship has done little to harm Dublin in the All-Ireland series but just because it works for the Dubs doesn't mean it works for Kerry.

Kerry need Cork to bring out a ruthlessness, a bite, a confidence and a team spirit that coming up against rivals like Cork can only knit together.

Of course what we need is a contest. The 'Five-Year Plan for Cork Football' mentioned the worst thing to afflict any sports fan: apathy.

"Recent lack of success on the football field, or most accurately a lack of even the hope of success, has led to a rise in apathy amongst our supporters ... perhaps as a means of lessening the pain of constant defeat. If we don't care, it can't hurt us."

We didn't know how good we had it when Cork and Kerry had a real rivalry. When you would only hope the game would be killed off early just so you could enjoy the game and breathe. When Cork would come to Fitzgerald Stadium and play with an arrogance like they owned the place. When it was terrifying and exciting in equal measure.

Now you're hoping for a tight game. A rush of nerves. A rush of something. Now you hope Cork will bring every bit of their Corkness just so we in Kerry can find out who and where we really are.

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