Cork versus Kerry will be laced with significance and tradition

‘All over the years we’ve always, at times, put it up to Kerry’

With 32 different senior football teams in action next weekend – including the pairings for four previous All-Ireland finals, surely some sort of record? – the small matter of Cork versus Kerry could slip beneath the radar.

There might not be a Munster title on the line but the Páirc Uí Chaoimh fixture will be laced with almost as much significance as tradition.

Win and Cork can deal a serious, if not catastrophic, blow to their neighbours’ hopes of retaining the Sam Maguire Cup.

Few would have predicted it would shape up like this, that Cork, beaten by Clare at the earliest stage in Munster, would be top of the table when the visit of Kerry, who were well beaten by Mayo in round one, rolled around.


From Cork’s perspective, they will hope that last Saturday’s battling win over Louth can provide a platform from which to attack Kerry and potentially steal a historic win. By doing so, they would give themselves a terrific chance of an All-Ireland quarter-final place and make a mockery of the widely held belief that the round one tie between Mayo and Kerry was essentially a shoot-out for top spot in Group One.

“That seemed to be billed as the big, big game of the group all right,” agreed Cork manager John Cleary, who acknowledged that Kerry deserved to be considered favourites initially. “Look, I suppose as pundits, they were entitled to think that, it’s not unfair.

“Kerry are the All-Ireland champions. And they were facing Mayo who are the league champions. They were both in Division One, we were mid-Division Two, so were Louth. So that’s what the form said and look, we’d be hoping that we can upset it a bit.

“But the short turnaround, after that tough battle against Louth and in hot conditions, like, Kerry were at home resting up so we’ll see.”

Even if Cork don’t claim any more points in the group, they have still given themselves a great chance of progressing to the All-Ireland series by beating Louth.

Seven weeks earlier, after the defeat in Clare, their summer appeared to be unravelling before their eyes.

“We took the first week and a half off after that,” said Cleary of post-Clare. “We played a couple of challenge games. I suppose the most frustrating thing first of all was that we didn’t know which competition we were in and secondly, we didn’t know who we were going to be playing until a couple of weeks ago. So that was tough.”

It wasn’t exactly vintage Cork last weekend either. They let slip a six-point lead in the third quarter of the game to trail by one approaching the hour mark. Given Louth’s penchant for epic comebacks – they came from five behind to beat Cork in the league and from eight back to overcome Westmeath in the Leinster championship – allied to Cork’s failure to close out the Clare game despite leading by four points at one stage that day, Cleary must have been concerned.

That they turned things around to register the win, he believes, is partly down to the fact that they have been tested so thoroughly all season long.

“Something similar happened in a lot of games this year, in the league as well,” said Cleary. “There was never more than a score in a lot of games and I think maybe we’re a small bit battle hardened and we know how to manage it a bit more. But look, go back to that Louth game last weekend, when the very last ball went in towards our goals my heart was in my mouth. I think Micheál Martin got a tip to it and it just trickled over the crossbar. Small things change games and we had that bit of luck. We didn’t have it in Ennis.”

Maybe they’ll get it again at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and consign the All-Ireland holders to back to back defeats. From here on, they’re in bonus territory, or so you’d imagine.

“We don’t think our way and our players don’t think that way,” responded Cleary. “All over the years we’ve always, at times, put it up to Kerry and we’ve always had great battles as well with Mayo.”