All-Ireland SFC quarter-final
Cork v Kildare,
Croke Park, 2pm
ONE of the most consistent teams in the country meets one of the most enigmatic for a place in the semi-finals against either Kerry or Donegal, who play in the second game.
Cork come into the game somewhat undercooked, not having played a competitive fixture in over a month and the 3-16 to 0-13 Munster final win over Clare would hardly fit the bill of being an over-taxing encounter.
Clearly, Cork targeted the provincial semi-final against Kerry in early June as one of those must-win games and their 0-17 to 0-12 victory underlined that approach.
But it’s also fair to say the season only begins in earnest now and in a repeat of 2011, injuries have mounted up, with the likes of Pearse O’Neill yet to taste championship football this summer and Pa Kelly missing out on the provincial decider.
Captain Graham Canty also sat out that game, but was last night named in the team, which shows just the one alteration, the Bantry Blues defender taking over from Eoin Cotter.
The selection is remarkable for the players not lining out from the start. What counties would give to have O’Neill, Kelly and Daniel Goulding, to mention just three, in their line-up and that includes the other seven quarter-finalists at the weekend.
But, that’s one of the key strengths of this Cork squad, the quality of player capable of being plucked from the bench to continue the good work of those being replaced.
It’s been a feature of Conor Counihan’s five-year reign that he invariably tries to have just as strong a team at the finish as at the throw-in and it’s a proven recipe for success.
While Cork took the scenic route to Croker, Kildare were sent on the highways and byways of the qualifiers following a dramatic collapse against Meath in the Leinster semi-final.
This is their sixth championship game and Kildare certainly have momentum in a campaign, which opened predictably enough with a routine 0-19 to 0-6 win over Offaly.
That led to the Meath encounter, which Kildare were expected to overcome without too much bother, but their rivals swept them aside during the second half, romping to a 1-17 to 1-11 triumph.
Once again questions were asked of this Kildare outfit, a team with so much potential, but under-achievers on the grand scale.
A trip to Cavan, Seanie Johnson’s land, was expected to again offer close examinations of their credentials, but, typically, Kildare blew them away, scorching to a 3-20 t0 1-9 victory.
A home game against Limerick was their reward and once more Kieran McGeeney’s men were tipped to breeze on only to nearly come a cropper again.
Kildare were forced into extra-time, extricating themselves for a big hole with last-gasp equaliser in regulation time before their superior fitness told in a 0-19 to 0-12 success.
Supporters were asking themselves which Kildare would show up for the last of the qualifiers against Sligo in
They got their answer in a most emphatic manner, Kildare sweeping to a 0-13 to 0-4 win in difficult conditions and keeping their All-Ireland ambitions on track.
One of their obvious problems is putting back-to-back performances together and the trend suggests Kildare will struggle again.
Cork need no incentive. The memory of the Mayo defeat this time 12 months ago is still fresh and surely the spur to ensure there’s no repeat.
Only once in Counihan’s management have Cork failed to reach the last four and I expect them to make up for last season.
CORK: A Quirke (Valley Rovers); R Carey (Clyda Rovers), M Shields (St Finbarr’s), E Cadogan (Douglas); P Kissane (Clyda Rovers), G Canty (Bantry Blues), N O’Leary (Cill na Martra); A O’Connor (St Colum’s), A Walsh (Kanturk); F Goold (Macroom), C Sheehan (Éire Óg), P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers); C O’Neill (Ballyclough), D O’Connor (Ballydesmond), N Murphy (Carrigaline).
KILDARE: S Connolly; O Lyons, P Kelly, H McGrillen; E Doyle, M O’Flaherty, E Bolton; M Foley, R Kelly; E O’Flaherty, M Conway, J Doyle; J Kavanagh, T O’Connor, A Smith.