Provincial finals are special and the intense rivalry between Cork and Kerry over many decades makes the Munster football final extra special. Kerry will face Cork in the senior final tomorrow at 7pm in Páirc Uí Chaoimh while the minors will meet Clare at 4.30pm.
The date and timing of these games is a break with tradition. Normally these finals are played on the first Sunday in July and in the early afternoon. Apparently scheduling the finals on a Saturday evening facilitates TV coverage. It certainly makes it very awkward, especially for those fans who are travelling from such remote areas as Eyeries and Valentia. There is no indication from the Munster Council as to why the minor game is so early. That game should be finished by 5.45pm and the senior game will not be going ahead until 7pm. It certainly will present some supporters with a dilemma and they may not travel in such large numbers.
Kerry are favourites in the senior final after shooting 32 points against Clare in the senior semi-final played here in the Fitzgerald Stadium some weeks ago. I was very impressed by the forwards in particular in that game. However, Cork were also very impressive in their clear-cut win over a fancied Tipperary team. Kerry keeper Shane Murphy had little to do against Clare but this will be a much sterner test. He has proved his worth and his kick-outs are well varied to retain possession. I expect that he will be going short most of the time as Cork are very strong in the middle of the field, particularly Aidan Walsh. I expect Walsh to be the key player here and David Moran needs to up his game to nullify the expected Cork dominance in that area. Jack Barry will be taking up Ian Maguire.
If Kerry get enough of the ball into the forward division they will run up a big score. At the other end Cork have a match-winner in Luke Connolly who scored at will against Tipperary. He will prove a handful for Kerry corner backs Shanahan or Foley. They will be severely tested and if he is curbed Cork will be well down in scores. They will be without the talented Colm O’Neill who is most unlucky with injury. He had three cruciate operations and was just returning to top form when he damaged his cartilage in the Tipperary game. It will be interesting to see who Cork play in his absence.
They might give a starting position to Paul Kerrigan who is back after a long lay-off with injury. He is their most experienced player. He might be listed at number 14 but charged with a roving role outfield, hoping to leave plenty of room in front of the Kerry goal. That would give great space to their danger men Mark Collins and Luke Connolly. It would pull Peter Crowley far out from goal, although that would not be a problem for the Kerry full back as he has played most of his football for Kerry in the past in the half back line. Luke Connolly is very accurate so being isolated inside may well be the ploy Cork will use. The Kerry half back line has done well with Gavin White, in particular, catching the eye. He has great courage and tremendous pace. He may be picking up Jack O’Rourke who played a very defensive game against Tipperary, dropping out to midfield for the kick outs and back in his own half back line to crowd out the Tipperary forward division.
Kerry’s impressive forwards
I was very impressed with all of the Kerry forwards in the semi-final. 32 points is a massive score but we also need goals as goals often are the difference between victory and defeat. Paul Geaney is a key man on the edge of the square. While he won the man-to-man duel against Clare, Cork will crowd out the scoring area and scores will be hard to come by. James O’Donoghue showed no ill effects from his long lay-off and is one man who can knife through the opposition. He may well be the man to score goals against Cork’s new keeper Mark White.
I was also impressed by Kerry wing forward Micheál Burns in the semi-final. He has a great engine and has the pace and stamina to drop back to help out in defence. He is also well able to score.
Two former All-Ireland minor winners, Seán O’Shea and David Clifford, have fitted in very well. They will have to deal with a crowded Cork defence, which will be a big challenge for them in their first Munster senior final, but they deserve their starting positions. They are very exciting players and O’Shea is also very good at taking frees.
Mark Collins, Luke Connolly and Colm O’Neill scored 1-13 between them out of a total of 1-17 against Tipperary. That is impressive, but Cork won’t have O Neill tomorrow.
Teams have not been announced as we go to press, but I expect no change on the Kerry team from the Clare game. Cork will have one enforced change at least, with Colm O’Neill out of the reckoning. It will be very tough to beat Cork on their home patch and their new manager Ronan McCarthy has done a good job. He is giving youth its chance just like Kerry so it should be an interesting, tactical game. I expect Kerry to win but the margin will be tight.
Peter Keane has done a great job with the minors. They were quite fortunate to edge out Cork by a late point in time added on in Tralee several weeks ago. They should have too much scoring power for Clare so I expect them to win with something to spare. These teams are now playing under 17 in place of the former under 18. Already an All-Ireland minor-winning manager, Keane is steadily building a successful portfolio to be the main contender for the senior job when Eamonn Fitzmaurice finishes his term of office.