DESPITE all the controversy over the past couple of weeks, this year’s O’Donoghue Cup final promises to be a classic. The match, between Killarney Legion and Rathmore, takes place in Fitzgerald Stadium today at 2pm.
1. Renewing old acquaintances
This year’s O’Donoghue Cup decider pits Legion against Rathmore and if recent history is anything to go by, Sunday’s game should be a belter.
This is the third time in four years the sides have met in the final and you can be sure that Legion will have vengeance on their mind; Rathmore came out on top in 2014 after a replay and again in 2015 when they won by seven points.
Earlier that year, Legion beat their East Kerry rivals by 0-15 to 0-12 in the semi-final of the County Championship, ending Rathmore’s dreams of making their first ever County Final.
2. Rathmore on the brink of history
Following those two triumphs over Legion and last year’s superb victory over Crokes, Rathmore are one game away from winning their fourth O’Donoghue Cup in a row.
It would be a remarkable achievement, especially considering how dominant the Crokes had been in the tournament since the turn of the century.
This year, they’ve already accounted for Spa and Gneeveguilla en route to the final. If they lift the cup on Sunday, it will be the club’s eighth East Kerry Championship (third all-time behind Spa and Crokes).
3. Can Legion lay their final hoodoo to rest?
Legion have unquestionably been one of the best teams in East Kerry for the past number of years but that coveted piece of silverware continues to elude them. In the last five years they’ve lost three O’Donoghue Cup finals, two Club Championship finals and a County Championship final.
The circumstances surrounding their qualification for this particular decider are far from ideal but it is what it is. The players can only beat what’s put in front of them.
Alan O’Neill has already guided his side back into Division 1; defeating Rathmore and stopping their four-in-a-row would constitute another major success. Everyone involved will be desperate to bring the O’Donoghue Cup back to Derreen for the first time since 1976.
4. Lucey back from Oz, Murphy still there
Following a stint in the AFL with Geelong, Pádraig Lucey has made a welcome return to the Legion set-up and could well feature in Sunday’s crucial fixture.
Standing at 6’8” tall, Lucey, who has also lined out for the Scotts Lakers since coming home, certainly offers Legion something different and the prospect of James O’Donoghue and Conor Keane feeding off of him in the full forward line should certainly excite the Legion faithful.
Rathmore, meanwhile, will have to make do without Kerry star Paul Murphy who is currently in Australia. Murphy will undoubtedly be a loss but Rathmore are strong all over the pitch and will be hoping that others can pick up the slack.
5. The end of the O’Donoghue Cup as we know it?
Given how poorly this year’s tournament has gone, everyone seems to agree that something has to be done about the East Kerry Championship.
Players have complained for a very long time about having to play into December and 10 of the 13 clubs (i.e. those who haven’t made a final in the last 11 years) are finding it hard stay optimistic about their chances of winning it again, in the near future at least. Now we’ve reached the stage – and I know there are mitigating circumstances – where teams are actually refusing to field teams.
The O’Donoghue Cup has been around for 63 years so any changes are sure to be resisted in some quarters but 2017 will surely be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t think there’s any easy solution to the problem but the East Kerry Board may feel as though it’s time to try something new.
Above: Ralhmore’s James O’Sullivan tussles with Legion’s Billy McGuire when the sides met in the 2015 County Championship. Pic: Eamonn Keogh