Cork are looking to beat Kerry in Killarney for the first time in 20 years.
There is nothing like a Munster Final in Killarney. The short distance between Killarney and Cork’s football heartland in the west of the county ensures that a sizeable rebel contingent make the trip across the county bounds. The atmosphere created in the town is stimulated by the fact that Killarney is an averaged sized provincial town, forcing fans to mingle on its main streets. The proximity of Fitzgerald’s Stadium and the town centre also allows for the atmosphere to uniquely transition between the two.
It is almost the perfect setting for a match being played against the idyllic backdrop of the McGillicuddy Reeks.
While the setting has remained largely unchanged since Kerry and Cork first did battle, the players have. Although we have not seen the last of the Gooch, his year out with injury coincided with the rise to prominence of James O’Donoghue. Nevertheless, Kerry look no weaker than they did this time last summer, when they destroyed Cork in the last encounter between these sides in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork will have to make amends for that defeat if they are to make an impact on this years Championship.
In order to do so, Brian Cuthbert reassessed his strategy during the league.
This year Cork have played far deeper – denying teams the space that Kerry took full advantage in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Their half back line is now used more effectively to begin counter attacks. Dropping half forwards such as Mark Collins deeper has also created a play making option, allowing Cork to transition the ball in order to create more scoring chances for their dangerous inside forwards.
However, it is difficult to quantify how successful Cuthbert’s new strategy has been. Cork topped the league standings after making four trips to Ulster and having notable victories over Kerry and Dublin. However after scoring four goals against Donegal in the semi final, they suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Dublin in the final. Indeed, the league unfolded for Cork in a similar vein to their 2013 campaign, when they also topped the division but lost to Dublin in the semi finals.
The facile victory over Clare does not throw any more light on where Cork now find themselves either.
Nevertheless, this could prove to be an advantage for the Rebels. Unlike last year, Cork are not expected to beat Kerry. Instead, defending both their crown and their proud home record, the pressure is on Kerry. Also, Cuthbert seems to have selected a team to counteract Kerry, as opposed to taking the game to them. Eoin Cadogan seems to have been selected at full back to negate the influence of Kieran Donaghy. Fintan Goold’s selection in midfield is also indicative of an attempt to reduce Kerry’s influence around the middle of the field.
For their part, Kerry have also made a number of changes. Fionn Fitzgerald will look to shore up what was a leaky defence during the league, while David Moran will give Kerry a midfield platform. Stephen O’Brien and Donnchadh Walsh come in at half forward while James O’Donoghue replaces Paul Geaney in the corner.
Despite the expectation being on Kerry, Cork, and Brian Cuthbert in particular, need to win this one. In too many big games they have been found wanting.
If they don’t turn it around on Sunday, another under performing year will have passed.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena