Fighting talk from Rebels as they prepare to storm Killarney fortress in Munster final battle
Munster Senior Football Championship final: Kerry v Cork (tomorrow, Fitzgerald Stadium, 4pm, live on RTE2)
A GLANCE at this season’s stats and you’d conclude that Cork are heading for Killarney tomorrow on a wing and a prayer.
Kerry’s form this year has been nothing short of stunning. Only the Dubs have got within half-dozen points of Peter Keane’s purring gold and green machine and Galway and Tyrone both left the Kingdom with their tails between their legs after humiliating trouncings.
Six games played, 127 scores recorded (17 goals and 110 points) and all but the Dubs beaten. The main man of course is the phenomenal full-forward David Clifford who has put the fear of God into defence after defence this year.
All told, Clifford has amassed 8-30 so far, he has found the net in every match and is the mainstay of a versatile, constantly-rotating line-up that also includes Sean O’Shea (1-29 this year), Paul Geaney, Paudie Clifford (David’s younger brother) Tommy Walsh and Killian Spillane (injury-plagued James O'Donoghue has withdrawn from the panel).
And so the big question for the Cork defence is: How do we keep these guys quiet? Kerry will waste no time getting the ball forward to their dangermen so the obvious answer is: Get some sweepers in. Two men stationed in front of David Clifford might blunt the threat he poses but, if Cork manager Ronan McCarthy focuses too much of his defensive resources on the elder Clifford brother, what about the other forwards?
Tipperary, the reigning Munster champions, tried that tactic early on in this year’s Munster semi-final but Kerry were patient and cute and Gavin White broke three tackles before slipping a pass to David Clifford around 15 metres from the end line.
The Fossa clubman hammered a shot past Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford and Kerry cantered home, Clifford was withdrawn with 15 minutes to go.
The other drawback facing the Rebels if they set up too defensively is: How are they going to score? Given the firepower Kerry will unleash, you’d expect that Cork will need at least a couple of goals to challenge them and if everyone is manning the barricades in their own half then it’s hard to see that happening.
Cork didn’t hit the heights Kerry managed in the League – they played in a relegation play-off in Division Two but came through it comfortably – and it took a sprint finish to add some gloss to the scoreboard in their 1-16 to 0-11 semi-final win over Limerick.
So they are underdogs but no-one was giving them much chance last year when they met their bitter rivals at the Munster semi-final stage and Mark Keane popped up at the death to score the goal that knocked a shocked Kingdom out.
The Cork U20s’ win over Kerry recently was the latest in a run of regular good results at underage level and this week Sean Powter – the man who restricted Sean O’Shea to a single point from play in that semi-final last year - came out with all guns blazing.
“I fully believe we’re going to beat them,” he said.
“We’ve beaten them all the way up We’ve beaten them all the way up, U21, and we beat them last year.”
Fighting talk indeed but can Cork back it up? Well, if Powter can shackle O’Shea again and his colleagues can get a handle on the Cliffords etc, the Rebels have the midfielders to win primary possession and the forwards in Luke Connolly, Brian Hurley and Mark Collins to hurt Kerry
But they are up against it. The Kerry defence is much-maligned but it has looked more solid this year and then you add in the Killarney factor - Fitzgerald Stadium has been a fortress for the Kingdom and Cork haven’t won there since 1995 when Colm Corkery landed seven points in a three-point success – it’s clear this is Kerry’s game to lose.
Cork will do all they can to stay with them until the final quarter and then go for broke but the quality in the Kingdom ranks should see the home side collect their 82nd Munster Cup.