Kerry's Sheer class will see them past beleagured Cork
Munster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Cork v Kerry (tonight, Páirc Uí Rinn, 6pm – live on Sky Sports Arena)
NOT since ‘Gooch’ killed off Cork hopes has a red head wreaked such havoc over Pairc Ui Chaomh. Yet 12 years on, it was the turn of Ed Sheeran – presumably still busking on the streets of Galway when Colm Cooper handed out six of the best in the 2010 Munster semi-final replay – to leave the Rebels reeling heading into this year’s Championship.
Sheeran’s tour dates started the whole saga that led to tonight’s game taking place at Páirc Uí Rinn, the English singer-songwriter - who has inexplicably sold more than 26 million albums worldwide – booked for Pairc Ui Chaomh, leaving this Munster renewal controversially bound for Killarney before Cork dug in their heels, insisting home advantage was retained against their most familiar of foes.
So now that we’re here, will it make any difference? The tale of the tape over recent months suggests not.
Cork football is in a difficult spot at present, with only narrow victory over fellow strugglers on the last day of the League sparing them the drop down to Division Three.
There was more turbulence in a tough first campaign for Keith Ricken – who replaced Ronan McCarthy last year – when health issues forced the new Cork boss to step aside for the forseeable future, leaving John Cleary as interim manager for the final rounds of the League before the daunting visit of their neighbours today.
Kerry, meanwhile, have hit the ground running in Jack O’Connor’s third spell at the helm, finishing top in Division One and swatting aside Mayo in a one-sided League final.
With no fresh injury concerns earlier in the week, and David Moran, Paul Murphy and Stefan Okunbor – all of whom missed a lot of League action due injury – all back and raring to go, they travel in rude health.
In terms of motivational mind games, Derry’s defeat of All-Ireland champions Tyrone came at a good time for O’Connor as he reminded his Kingdom stars of the pitfalls that lie ahead should eyes be taken from the ball.
Yet that comparison is to cut Cork more slack than their performances merit. Derry could be backed at 3/1 travelling to Omagh last week, with many anticipating Rory Gallagher’s Oak Leafs would give the Red Hands their fill – and so it proved.
The Rebels, who are without towering midfielder Ian Maguire,are available at 16/1 in some places, which tells you all you need to know about the current disparity in one of Gaelic football’s great rivalries.
Of course, it is less than two years since Cork stunned Kerry at the same stage, but these counties have moved in divergent directions since the strangeness of a summer Championship held in winter.
Holding firm over home venue might have forged some kind of siege mentality but, even with the expected return of the influential Sean Powter, it is the Kerry supporters who will be singing when all is said and done.
In Connacht, meanwhile, Galway are expected to carry on the momentum from victory over Mayo a fortnight ago into tomorrow’s Connacht semi-final showdown against Leitrim (Pearse Stadium, 3.30pm).
The Tribe are expected to be unchanged, while Leitrim boss Andy Moran has named Brendan Flynn and Riordan O'Rourke in his starting 15 in place of Darren Maxwell and Darragh Rooney.