The one thing you cannot do as a Kerry footballer is lose to Cork in Killarney
Sunday’s game might not have relevance to the year ahead but there is a proud tradition to uphold
A large crowd in Killarney await the start of last year’s Kerry versus Tyrone qualifier clash. “None of these Cork players have ever beaten Kerry there. This is no time to be giving them a taste of it.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Growing up in west Kerry, there was no better prospect than going up to Killarney to see Kerry play Cork. You knew it was the real start of the summer. The weather was normally pretty good and everybody was in good form. You were off school and the nights were long so you knew that whatever the result happened to be, you could go home and play Cork again in the your own garden well into the evening.
The beauty of Fitzgerald Stadium as a kid was that you could wander down from the stands and get right close to the tunnel where the players came out. You’d get the smell of the Wintergreen and see these big huge Cork fellas run past you and wonder how in the name of God were we ever going to beat them. But then the green and gold would go past and all would be right with the world.
It’s a grand town for grown-ups as well. I’d say even Cork people nearly prefer playing in Killarney. The pitch is in the middle of the town and you don’t tend to lose people along the way like you do on that walk down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I’ve set off for the Páirc before with half a dozen men around me and found that we were down to the bare two or three by the time we got there. If that happens in Killarney, at least you know they’ll have found a good home.
Killarney will be hopping this weekend. The Ring Of Kerry Charity Cycle is on and you can’t get a hotel room in the town for love nor money. I rang a fella I know in one hotel during the week and he said he has a waiting list of 67 people looking for rooms. It’s the place everyone wants to be.
Does the game matter though? Well on one level it always will. Obviously it’s not as important as it was when I was a kid or even when I started playing for Kerry. Both sides will still have the same ambition of winning the All-Ireland on Sunday night as they do today.
But whatever shape the championship takes in years to come, whatever rejigging they do down the line, this game will endure. No matter what era, you will still find that most of the Kerry players know the Cork players and vice-versa. They play against each other at underage, at college, at county.
And regardless of the level, one thing never changes. You have to beat Cork if you’re a Kerry footballer. And you have to beat Kerry if you’re a Cork footballer. It’s just part of the deal really. There’s too much history for it not to matter.