|Its “ Now Or Never “ for the Cork Footballers to end the County’s famine of going 19 years without an All Ireland Title. The fact that its our fiercest neighbours Kerry that lie in wait to be beaten adds to the spice of the occasion. When Larry Tompkins climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Sam Maquire in 1990, that Cork Team put to bed a side in Meath that a bit of hoodoo both on the field and in the head of Cork’s Footballers, the same now can be said of the opposition that lie in wait for us on Sept 20th.
As a child growing up in the late seventies there was a time that we would thought we would never see a Cork Football side in Croke Park. We got a taste of that in 1983 against the Dubs but had to wait another four years until it really came to life in the shape of an All Ireland Final against Meath in 1987.
It seemed an eternity to go from Billy Morgan captaining Cork to success in 1973 to Dinny Allen in 1989. For those of us leaving Croke Park when the second half of a glorious double was won in 1990 in the shape of the Footballers, we would never then have felt that it would be at least 19 more years until we saw a Cork man lift Sam Maquire.
As I said earlier the fact that its Kerry we now face adds to the occasion but you would feel that Jack O’Connor is more happier to face Cork than Conor Counihan is to face Kerry. Victories for Cork against Kerry historically are always hard to come by and are always celebrated with enormous passion. A win against them on Sunday 20th will surpass anything ever seen before or even witnessed in Croke Park. This Cork side is probably the best Cork side since the team of the late eighties/early nineties. That side that Billy Morgan managed had steel in the shape of Cahalane, Counihan, Tompkins and Fahy but also had a great substitute bench in Culloty, McCarthy and O’Driscoll.
The 2009 side bears many similarities with the 89/90 side, it too has steel in Canty, Shields,O’Leary and O’Neill but it has a decent substitute bench in the shape of Goold, Masters, Cussen but the one major flaw is that they cant seem to repeat Munster victories over Kerry in Croke Park in the All Ireland series. Defeats in 02 under Larry Tompkins followed by three more under Billy Morgans reign in 2005 2006 and in 2007. Cork have tasted many good and bad days in Croke Park in the history of the GAA but I don’t think anything was as disappointing and frustrating as 2007. The performance that day was brutal and one felt totally embarrassed by it and the fact that it ended Billy Morgans involvement with Cork Football was even more sad. You would have felt that players would have died to defeat Kerry in Croke Park in an All Ireland Final for that man and what he gave to Cork Football but instead we witnessed a lifeless and shambolic performance. I think only now after the victory over Tyrone some fans are beginning to forget about 2007 and feel we will won’t see that type of performance against Kerry in this years Final.
Conor Counihan too has tasted defeat to Kerry in Croke Park like his predecessors that came last year in glorious fashion in a Semi Final Replay. The comeback against Kerry the first day from being eight points down with four minutes to go and the next day in the replay may have indeed proved a watershed for this side. Defeats against Kerry in Croke Park until last year seemed to follow a usual pattern. Cork would be around three or four points down at half time and then after the interval, Kerry would step up a gear and pull away . In five defeats to Kerry since 02 the average loss is over 9 pts.
Confidence is high for a Cork victory amongst the younger members of the Cork supporters but those of us who have witnessed the bad days in the seventies and eighties are very wary of the Kingdom, no matter how weak they are being perceived in some quarters of the media.
You would expect Cork to line out as they started against Tyrone. The Kerry fifteen will be waited with baited breath. Will Jack o Connor recall a fit again Kieran Donaghy or will he hold him in reserve and go with Tommy Walsh instead. I expect one of these guys will start and my money would be on Tommy Walsh getting the nod at Full Forward with Donnacha Walsh dropping to the bench. This would enable Declan O’Sullivan to move to Centre Forward to possibly lock horns with Noel O’Leary and to run at him or else Graham Canty. You would expect Anthony Lynch to pick up Colin Cooper. You would be concerned about Ray Carey against Darren O’Sullivan in the other corner. It is possible the Kingdom will licence their Captain to a roaming commission though. At the other end of the field you would feel Cork have the better of the individual match ups. Jack O’Connors enticement out of retirement of Mick McCarthy has been proven a wise move but the Kerry defender’s deal breaker on a return was that he would play further out the field ,that may now prove a hindrance seeing he is up against Pierce O’Neill. McCarthy has a had a comfortable ride so far thanks to the poor quality of Centre Forwards Dublin and Meath had. But when the Aghada man is flying he almost unmarkable. This battle could be key to Corks success. On the wings Kerrigan and Kelly will be key too. You would expect Kerry to be looking very carefully on how Kerryman Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s Limerick nullified their threat in the Munster Final. In the Full Forward line Daniel Goulding hasn’t put a foot wrong in previous performances against Kerry and you would expect that to continue. Colm O’Neill was outstanding against Tyrone and even if he could prove a handful and chip in with a point, it would be enough for the youngster. Donnacha O’Connor in the other corner has had an inconsistent season so far but he too like Goulding seems to rise to the occasion when the green and gold is put in front of him. The Ballydesmond man’s free-taking is a worry. He has a nasty habit of missing the first free he is awarded, hopefully Conor Counihan has a back up free taker if he has an off day.
If Cork are to prevail on Sunday you would feel a carbon copy of the performance against Tyrone is required. That day a good start with a goal in the first half with a lead going into half time and then forcing the opposition to come on to them in the second half but with a resolute defence putting their bodies on the line and the ability to withstand that and also hit the opposition for a score or two to keep the lead intact. If Kerry are to get the good start and be ahead at half time you would worry that the fear of losing against Kerry again would come in to play and the Kingdom as with other games against Cork would pull away in the second half with their ability to kick points and close out the game. We don’t want to end up like Mayo and be the side Kerry most like to play against in Croke Park on All Ireland Final Day.
Letting my heart rule my head or is it the other way around ,in any case it come out with the same conclusion, I cant see Cork leaving it behind them this time. A Cork victory too should put to bed all this rubbish about Kerry being team of the decade. They may have won four All Irelands in the last ten years but a defeat to the Rebels will also mean they will have lost four All Irelands in the same last ten years.