James O’Donoghue and Johnny Buckley in line to return for Munster final

Kerry duo expected to be fit to face Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

 James O’Donoghue celebrates scoring a goal against Dublin. The classy Kerry forward should be fit to face Cork on Sunday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

James O’Donoghue celebrates scoring a goal against Dublin. The classy Kerry forward should be fit to face Cork on Sunday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Tue, Jul 1, 2014, 01:00

The return of players like James O’Donoghue and Johnny Buckley will see Kerry a good deal closer to full strength when they renew rivalries with Cork in Sunday’s Munster football final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

It may be the first time since 2002 that Kerry have faced Cork without Colm “Gooch” Cooper – his cruciate ligament injury earlier this year ending his run of 76 successive championship appearances. However, O’Donoghue will make a welcome return to the forward line, with Buckley on course to renew duty at midfield.

Both players missed Kerry’s semi-final win over Clare last month, as O’Donoghue was recovering from a shoulder injury, and Buckley an ankle sprain. According to Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice both players now have a “better than 50-50” chance of starting, and if not will almost certainly feature at some stage.

“They’re coming, they’re coming,” says Fitzmaurice. “Johnny was back training last week, and came through it fine. We’re hoping that James will be able to do a bit more this week.

“So we’ll have to wait and see how he is after that. But I’d say they’d be better than 50-50. We’d be hoping they’d be higher. With regard to the injuries themselves, they should be okay but it’s the match sharpness, the football, and they won’t have an awful lot of that under their belt. So that could be a factor.”

Sunday’s final, amazingly, represents the 24th meeting between the two counties since 2000 – including in All-Ireland qualifiers – with Kerry winning 14 games to Cork’s five, while there were five draws. Kerry defeated Cork 1-16 to 0-17 in last year’s Munster final in Killarney.

Little cold

Yet both teams will feel they’re coming in a little cold, and that, says Fitzmaurice, is enough reason to do away with the seeding reintroduced this year, and effectively ensured both Kerry and Cork were kept apart until the final.

“If you ask me would I prefer this year’s situation, where we have had one game and suddenly we’re in a Munster final, or last year’s situation, where we’d two good games and a Munster final, then I’d say games any day of the week.

“And absolutely I can see the case the other counties are making, 100 per cent, that they want the chance to make a Munster final, which is totally understandable. Both of us were nearly caught the last day, but trying to beat both. particularly when the other team has had a game is very hard. So I understand that side of the argument.

“I would definitely prefer games. We train to play and we do an awful lot of training to play. I prefer, and I’m sure the lads are the same, to be playing way more often and training far less. So there are issues there with the system, and everyone understands that. But trying to get the right balance, something that will be accepted politically, is a delicate balancing act.”

Sunday’s game is also being billed as the last Munster football final between the old rivals to be played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, before the redevelopment work begins.

Kerry have mixed memories of playing there.

“It’s a hard place for Kerry to win, is one memory,” says Fitzmaurice. “Though It’s a great pitch. I know it gets a lot of slack with regard to where it is, getting in there and the state of the stadium and the size of the dressing rooms, but it’s a fantastic pitch . . . .

“I remember playing there when we were the All-Ireland champions in 2001. We beat Cork in a tight game that day and there was an absolutely incredible atmosphere there.”

Fitzmaurice is also excited by the prospect of having Bryan Sheehan back to his old self again, especially after his performance in the second half against Clare – which he chipped in with five crucial points, two from frees

“I was delighted for him, personally, because he’s worked ferociously hard this year. He had a very frustrating season last season. He’s a serious footballer.”

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