Kerry should keep momentum going

 

Kerry v Cork (3.30):Even by their usual standards, Kerry people have been jumpy about tomorrow's match and it doesn't appear to be the usual mock-serious talking up of the opposition.

One of the features of the new championship format is the possibility of teams meeting twice over the summer.

It makes the side that won the first match understandably nervous. They have exposed their strengths to a greater extent than their opponents and fear the consequences. Nor is this simply superstition.

In the four years since the qualifiers were introduced there have been four re-matches at All-Ireland level between teams that had met already in the provincial championships. Only one failed to return a different winner and even that went to a replay (Meath-Westmeath in 2001 - the other three were Derry-Tyrone, and Galway-Roscommon, also in 2001, and Kerry-Cork a year later).

So the All-Ireland champions are right to be concerned. Manager Jack O'Connor has again demonstrated the importance of good form by bringing in Bryan Sheehan for his first start and omitting, for a second year, Mike Frank Russell.

It was much marvelled at after last September's All-Ireland that Kerry had scooped the pot in some style despite missing the triptych of Séamus Moynihan, Darragh Ó Sé (both injured) and Russell.

Ironically, this weekend sees Russell again dropped and big question marks over the form of the other two. Then amidst all of this gnawing anxiety came the sort of break that can only have greatly cheered O'Connor and his management.

Just after being named on the Cork team at Tuesday night's training session Derek Kavanagh sustained ankle ligament damage that rules him out tomorrow.

The loss of one of the centrefield partnership that has played so well in the championship is a blow made all the heavier for the lack of satisfactory back-up in the area. Cork's selectors couldn't decide between Diarmuid Hurley and Martin Cronin when trying to name a replacement on Thursday night and decided to think about it and defer the decision until tonight.

Cronin isn't really a centrefielder whereas it was the substitution of Hurley in the opening NFL match between the counties last February that brought Kavanagh to the middle and ended the experiment of his playing at full back as well as kick-starting a fine Cork recovery.

A constant temptation must be to move Graham Canty from the edge of the square, but the destabilisation of the defence would be a high price to pay and Morgan is right to start with the straight swap and keep his options open after that.

It puts a major burden on Nicholas Murphy who has been winning up high while Kavanagh was cleaning up below but who now will have to adapt to a new partner.

Centrefield hasn't been Kerry's strongest unit, but Darragh Ó Sé and William Kirby will believe a little more in their prospects than might have been the case a week ago.

Cork's defeat of Galway in the quarter-final was notable for the performances of Anthony Lynch and Brendan Jer O'Sullivan. Lynch has always been a consistent big-match player and his confrontation with Eoin Brosnan will be pivotal, but there will be some anxiety about O'Sullivan who can be erratic in his shooting.

There was evidence the last day that he was turning a corner in terms of accuracy and shot selection - and specific coaching attention has been paid to his tendency to let loose impossible efforts, something attributed to the responsibility he carries at his small club, Adrigole - but we'll need to see a bit more.

A year ago Kerry began to go up the gears in the semi-final against Derry and were still gathering momentum when they hit Mayo in the final. It's time to start that process again despite the difficulty champions have had in persevering for a second year since 1990.

It was always going to be asking a lot of Cork's talented young forwards to bend the formidable Kerry defence to their will in a first season at senior level. That task has been made harder by the disruption to centrefield.

Kerry are closing in on an historic date with one of their Ulster tormentors and they should kick on towards that.

KERRY:D Murphy; M Ó Sé, M McCarthy, T O'Sullivan; T Ó Sé, S Moynihan, A O'Mahony; D Ó Sé, W Kirby; P Galvin, E Brosnan, L Hassett; C Cooper, D O'Sullivan, B Sheehan.

CORK:K O'Dwyer; N Geary, G Canty, G Murphy; O Sexton, A Lynch, N O'Leary; AN Other, N Murphy; J Masters, C McCarthy, K McMahon; P Clifford, BJ O'Sullivan, J Hayes.

Referee:M Deegan (Laois).