Rarely has the buildup to a Munster final between two of the greatest rivals in the GAA been so muted as the Rebels and the Kingdom go head-to-head at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday.
Maybe it’s because of the changes that have taken place in each county since last year and as a result, neither set of supporters has any idea of how their side will perform. It could also be because the safety net of the qualifiers has removed much of the edge from modern provincial championship games with Sunday’s Munster final being no exception.
It goes without saying though that both sides will strive mightily to win – one imagines the Rebels will view their final outing at home in the ageing Pairc Ui Chaoimh as the chance to close this chapter with a local win, while Kerry will have their own motivations as always.
There is a genuine sense that Cork and Kerry are heading into the unknown at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday. The signs from this spring have been pointing in opposite directions, and judging by their displays in the Munster semi-finals, neither will go into this game brimming with confidence.
After seven games of their Allianz League campaign in the spring , Cork were absolutely flying , top of Division 1 and playing a swashbuckling style of football brought in by new manager Brian Cuthbert. Until of course , that run came to an abrupt end thanks to All-Ireland champions Dublin in the League semi-final when the Rebels embarrassingly coughed up a 10-point lead at the start of the second half to lose by seven.
Throw in their fortunate win over Tipperary last week , when they needed Aidan Walsh to come off the bench to hit three vital points and it’s easy to see why there are plenty of question marks hanging over this relatively new look Cork side. Cuthbert decided not to use any of his dual stars in last week’s victory, but he is taking no chances this time around as Walsh , Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane are all restored to the starting XV, with Andrew O’Sullivan, Mark Collins and John Hayes dropped.
Veteran forward Donnacha O’Connor returns from injury to make the bench and Colm O’Neill has again been held in reserve , despite scoring twice when coming off the bench the last day. Defensively Cork can still turn to the excellent Michael Shields to keep things tight , while Fintan Goold is still trying to establish himself as an inter-county midfielder. While he has plenty of work to do in that department, Cork have the potential to dominate in this area.
Up front, Cork have serious talent with the likes of Hurley, Kelly, Kerrigan, and O’Rourke, but will they perform on the big stage Sunday?
While Kerry also struggled in their Munster semi-final win over Clare , there were a number of overriding factors that contributed to their performance. They hadn’t played a competitive game since the Allianz League defeat to Cork on April 7 and faced a Banner side playing for the third week in a row, while they were also missing key players Donnacha Walsh, James O’Donoghue and Johnny Buckley.
There were some positives however, with corner forward debutant Paul Geaney scoring six points from play, and Bryan Sheehan adding four points, while Declan O’Sullivan showed great leadership in the closing stages.
Walsh, Buckley and O’Donoghue all return from injuries to start on Sunday while the experienced Aidan O’Mahony comes in at full-back as manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice makes four switches. Fitzmaurice’s selection tells us that much has changed in recent years for the Kingdom and those great players from throughout the Noughties have packed up and gone.
No Diarmuid Murphy, Tom O’Sullivan, Tomas O Se, Mike McCarthy, Darragh O Sé or Tadhg Kennelly. All has changed and the current team fails to frighten opponents like the teams of years gone by. B
Having had 24 championship meetings since 2000, Cork and Kerry is the busiest rivalry in Gaelic football. Kerry won 14 of those games to the Rebel’s mere five while there have been five draws.
Kerry have won the last two Munster final meetings, while Cork’s last win over their bitter rivals in a provincial decider came back in 2008. There are more questions than answers going into this game and it’s almost impossible to pick a winner.
The bookies have given the nod to the home team in this one given the Rebel’s comprehensive victory over the Kingdom already this year in Tralee. It should make for an enthralling encounter in Cork.
Verdict: Cork by 3.
Tadhg Creedon, Pundit Arena.
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