Cork v Kerry
Croke Park, 4pm
Live on TG4 (HD)
IF I got a euro for every person who said ‘Cork should win on Sunday, shouldn’t they?’ this week, I’d have a mini mint for myself.
They mean well. But, the reality is that many of the casual observers willing on Cork for their seventh All-Ireland title in eight years have probably never seen Kerry play.
We’re telling you here now, they can’t be underestimated.
In the Munster final in Páirc Uí Rinn in mid-summer they pulled themselves out of an 11-point deficit — 0-1 to 2-6 — to lose by six points in the end. Had they taken their chances that day in the first half, they could very well have outscored Cork.
Both sides learned valuable lessons that day. Kerry; that they have to believe in themselves and their capabilities, and that they did against Dublin and Galway in the quarter and semi-final respectively.
Cork learned about the need for a consistent work rate over 60 minutes, and they provided that in their quarter-final and semi-final wins over Donegal and Monaghan.not to underestimate Kerry. But, to be fair, they never underestimate any opponent.
The 2006 All-Ireland final against Armagh will be in the back of Cork minds too when annual once-a-year viewers handed out a heavy favourites’ tag then too. That day they were raging hot favourites, but it didn’t go as smoothly as the casual punters’ scripts had it written.
And in fairness to Eamonn Ryan’s players, they know it’s a whole new ball game come Croker. Park on All-Ireland final day. Anything can happen.
Now, there’s the reality check too. Cork are six-time champions and the odds are hugely stacked against Kerry.
Although they hold the most All-Ireland titles of any county (11), they last lined out in an All-Ireland championship final in 1993 — 19 years ago. Hence the likes of Eoin ‘the Bomber’ Liston, Mick Galwey and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper taking to the Kerry airwaves in recent weeks with good luck wishes.
They’ve waited long enough; and they want it bad.
It won’t be the first time the sides have met in a national final however, with the 2008 national league showdown in Cusack Park seeing the Rebels lift their fourth successive NFL title on a scoreline of 6-13 to 2-10.
That day, Valerie Mulcahy bagged 1-5, and she’ll be a marked woman again, as will all the Cork forwards.
Mulcahy however stands above the rest when it comes to Kerry encounters having registered 5-32 — 19 frees and two penalties — in their last six meetings since that season.
The highest scorer for Kerry is UCC’s Louise Ní Mhuirceartaigh of Chorca Dhuibhne with 1-16 — 0-12 frees.
This comparison of top scorers however is only a fragment of the bigger picture.
The bigger picture really being the fact that since Cork won the first of their nine consecutive senior Munster titles in 2004 (ironically against Kerry) — the first in the county’s 31-year history — the bulk of Cork players still remain.
9 Cork players are still on the panel, as opposed to three for Kerry. That will count for a lot on Sunday.
In fairness to Kerry coach William O’Sullivan, he’s admitted that Croker is new territory for his players, but they’re willing to meet its might head-on, dealing with it now rather than ignoring it and letting nerves swallow up his troops come Sunday.
A trip to the camogie final a few weeks back, just as Cork did prior to their first appearance in Croker in 2004, has already helped quell the nerves.
They are ready, but if Cork are anywhere near the mood the portrayed in the semi-final against Monaghan, then no matter how prepared Kerry are for the jaws of Croke Park, there’ll be no upset.
Eamonn Ryan’s charges were simply awesome that day in Birr. Every player who started, and every player who came on was sensational.
The hunger for a start was almost tangible. You’d be hoping they didn’t peak too soon, but something says it’s all about bringing the Brendan Martin Cup back to Leeside again, and nothing will get in the way.
Kerry will look to the likes of skipper Bernie Breen, who will have to contend with Juliet Murphy and Norita Kelly in the middle of the park.
Her usual partner is former UL basketball star Lorraine Scanlon, but in the semi against Galway, Scanlon’s height was utilised like Kieran Donaghy at full-forward, and it worked a treat with her registering 1-1.
Sarah Houlihan and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh are Kerry’s other danger women, and Bríd Stack, Ann Marie Walsh and Deirdre O’Reilly will be ready to shut up shop.
There’s not much left to say, bar that Cork’s hunger, their calibre and experience should be enough to deliver the goods.
Kerry are cute out, but Cork will be cuter.