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Darragh Ó Sé: Cork will beat Kerry sometime – not this time

But being at home with nothing to lose on a Saturday night are perfect conditions for it

First of all, I suppose I should hold my hands up a bit over my column ahead of the Kerry v Cork game last year. Only a bit, now – no sense getting too upset over it. I thought Cork would be better than they were. Or maybe I was worried they would be better than they were. They turned up against Mayo three weeks later and gave them plenty of it so I wasn't too far off. But I got it wrong. No point pretending about it.

People think it’s cute-hoor stuff but it’s actually the complete opposite. It’s a fear that they’ll rise up again – which they definitely will at some stage. I spent my early days as a Kerry footballer losing to Cork and even in their worst days, I’m always wary of them coming up with something. So no matter how bad they’re going, I never think it’s just a matter of turning up and giving them a hosing.

I do think Kerry will beat them on Saturday night, all the same. Whatever worries I would have about them normally, I heard they were well-beaten by Roscommon in a challenge match a few weeks ago. Challenge matches are challenge matches and you can’t take them as gospel. But you shouldn’t be getting beaten a-point-a-man in them, no matter how bad things are.

It’s so hard to get information on any team these days. Everything is behind closed doors, everything is sub-judice. A colleague of mine was telling me there recently that his young lad is in with the Kerry under-17s. They were going away for training one of the weekends and the young lad wouldn’t even tell his father where they were going! Cloak-and-dagger all the way.


But even in this modern information vacuum, news of that hiding Cork got from Roscommon still found its way out. In fairness, Roscommon put up a good show against Galway last week so they’re no minnows. But Cork will need to be a damn sight better than that on Saturday.

It should be some occasion. Kerry will bring a big crowd, if only to see the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the first time. And even though the Cork footballers don’t have that big a following at the best of times, I think the fact that it’s on a Saturday night will draw a good few of the locals in. What else would you be doing?

Down the years, you always had to admire the way Cork teams kept themselves relevant in the championship despite the fact that they never had a big support. Coming from Kerry, it nearly felt unnatural. But still, despite getting very little backing, they just went out and did what they did for themselves. That gave them an edge, a kind of a to-hell-with-ye attitude. You had to respect that.

It's hard to put your finger on exactly why they've gone so far back over recent years. Whatever about not being able to beat Kerry in Munster, they've fallen way back in the qualifiers and in the league as well. I'd imagine having to play their games away from Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a factor. As well as that, they've lost good players here and there, either to injuries or to the hurlers.

It probably doesn't help either that they always seem to be starting from scratch. Ronan McCarthy is the fourth Cork manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has faced in the championship - and this is only his sixth time playing them.

Lame duck

When you have that many managers in such a short space of time, two things happen. Or don’t happen, as the case may be. One, there’s a lot of time wasted because as a manager is going out the door, everyone knows he’s goosed and he’s a lame duck long before the end. And two, there is no chance for continuity, no consistent way of developing players.

Take someone like John O'Rourke, who is the sort of busy, intelligent wing-forward teams are crying out for in the modern game. He made his debut under Conor Counihan, was subbed off at half-time in a Munster final under Brian Cuthbert, got dropped to the bench after the defeat to Tipperary in Peadar Healy's first championship game, before earning his place back last year and playing very well against Mayo in that qualifier.

He has had to prove himself to a fourth manager from the start of this year – and he’s still only 26. He has had to learn new ways to impress four different guys. He has probably been given different jobs to do by all four of them. Four different systems, four different ways of thinking about the game. How can he – or anyone else in the various Cork panels that have been put together that time – be expected to improve along the way?

For Cork players in this era, who haven't beaten Kerry since 2012, there's one job and one job only on the agenda

When I played against Ronan McCarthy, he always had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was passionate about Cork, you could see that from him. He would poke the bear when the time was right. He liked to pick his battles as well. He wasn't shy about doing a bit of bullying around the place, although it always seemed to me that he chose the like of Mike Frank Russell for a target rather than the likes of Eamon Breen. He was, let's say, strategic in his option-taking.

He has nothing to lose here. Everyone expects Cork to be beaten – and they will continue to expect that up until the day they finally end this streak of defeats against Kerry. So he can prepare his players to be reckless here, to throw themselves into Saturday night like it’s the biggest game of their lives.

It might sound like it’s early in the summer for that sort of chat but for Cork players in this era, who haven’t beaten Kerry since 2012, there’s one job and one job only on the agenda. Kerry have to play with an eye on later in the year, to keep the Super 8 in mind, watch for suspensions and injuries and all the rest of it. Cork have to beat Kerry by hook or by crook before they can think of any of that. There’s no point concerning themselves with the finer things in life until they work out how to bake themselves a loaf of bread.

Think of all the predictions you saw at the start of the year for the line-up of the Super 8. How many times did you see Cork's name listed? The fine group of experts in The Irish Times – myself included – handed in our lists at the start of the championship and not one of us gave a vote to Cork. In all, 12 counties got a shout – including Armagh, Cavan, Kildare and Tipperary – yet none of us gave Cork a squeeze. I don't know if that says more about us than it does about Cork.

One way or the other, it tells you where Cork are. They haven’t been at such a low ebb in a long time. McCarthy comes into his first Munster final in charge knowing that the only way is up. This is not their normal state. With the population they have and the pedigree they have, they are bound to settle back at a higher level eventually.

It’s up to the Cork management to convince them that this is the best place to start. When they do eventually end the losing streak against Kerry, they’ll be saying afterwards that nobody gave them a chance. That’s certainly the case this week.

In Kerry, people are generally fairly happy with what the new young team did against Clare. Clare were very naive in the way they set up the last day in Killarney but you still have to go out and put them away, which Kerry did in comprehensively. Nobody expects the rest of the championship to be like that but you can only do what you’re asked on a given day.

This will be a much bigger test. Away from home, a Saturday night crowd, a Cork team with nothing to lose. When they do eventually beat Kerry, you’d imagine those will be the perfect conditions for it.

But I don’t think it will happen this time. Kerry by five or six points.