Kerry hope to make up for lost time
WOMEN’S FOOTBALL ALL-IRELAND SENIOR FINAL:Appearing in their first final since 1993, Kerry have it all to do against a Cork team that are overwhelming favourites to win
“IT’S AN awful place to lose,” says Rena Buckley of Croke Park, but the Cork captain has considerably more experience of leaving the stadium on All-Ireland final day with that winning feeling – six football and four camogie medals already to her name.
Last month, though, along with fellow dual player Briege Corkery, she was on the losing side in the camogie final when Wexford made it three-in-a-row, but she has yet to taste defeat in a football final, tomorrow her’s and her county’s seventh in eight years.
Only a defeat to Tyrone at the quarter-final stage in 2010 interrupted Cork’s extraordinary domination of the women’s game, but normal service was resumed last year, when, once again under the guidance of manager Eamonn Ryan, they prevailed, that time over Monaghan.
“We felt we let ourselves down against Tyrone,” says Buckley, “but last year we got ourselves back on the horse, as they say. You can’t just keep on winning forever, so every time you get an opportunity you try to capitalise on it.
“The ladies only get to go to Croke Park once a year so it’s always a special experience and Briege and myself certainly don’t want to taste defeat again on Sunday.”
In contrast, Kerry haven’t appeared in a final since 1993, their nine-in-a-row, between 1982 and 1990 a distant memory now. They came close the last two years to returning to Croke Park, beaten each time in the semi-finals, but, at last, the breakthrough came against Galway in Birr last month.
“We were there or thereabouts the last three years, but we knew there was something in us and we’d get to the final in the end – and, hopefully, win it,” says Kerry captain Bernie Breen.
“And I suppose it’s nice to see one Kerry team up here in the final this year,” she smiles.
Beating Cork, though, is a huge ask for this young Kerry side – some bookies have the champions at 1/10 – manager William O’Sullivan conceding that the last few times they’ve played each other, “it’s been all over at half-time”.
The margin in this year’s Munster final was six points, “but we were pretty well beaten in the first half,” he says.
“We were playing with the wind and were down 11 points at half-time – that says enough. You can look at the second half all you like, but the last few years it’s been a similar story, Cork start off and blow us away, ease back and then we claim some kind of moral victory in the second half. We’re tired of that.
“But when we started out with this team most of them were 18, 19 – they’re 21, 22 now, so that makes a huge difference, we have that bit of experience now.
“It’s really how they react on the day, it’s a first final for all of them, so we’ll see how they handle it.”
Buckley, naturally enough, looks at the other way. “It’s an absolutely brilliant position for Kerry to be in, the pressure is on us to perform and they can go out and enjoy it that bit more,” she says.
“And being from Kerry they’ll have no fear whatsoever of Croke Park, the county is a different animal when it reaches there,” she laughs, “they’ll have an extra spring in their step.”
Still, beating Cork would be a new experience for Breen who made her senior debut when she was 14, took a break and returned to the panel in 2007.
Well, she’s half sure it would be a new experience any way.
Has she ever been on a Kerry side that got the better of them?
“I’m trying to think now . . . I’m actually not sure about that. It’s a long time ago, I’m quite old now,” she laughs, emphasising just how long it’s been since Cork have been in the ascendancy.
“It’s been hard to take over the years,” she admits.
Tomorrow, Kerry finally get the chance to make up for lost time.