Kerry and David Clifford should have too much for Cavan
Experience and scoring power enough for Kingdom to reach All-Ireland minor final
David Clifford and the Kerry players celebrate with the Munster title. Photograph: Cathal Noonan
Kerry v Cavan
Croke Park, Sunday 1.30pm, Live on TG4
Inequality is a buzzword in senior football at present but the minor ranks are as egalitarian as ever. Among the Under-18s, anyone can be king for a day. To prove the point, 12 different counties have won All-Ireland minor titles this century, with 15 making finals. At senior, those numbers are seven and eight.
The gap, then, between the haves and have-nots is clearly not as wide among the kids, a fact which may instil Ulster runners-up Cavan with a measure of confidence when they face Kerry, gunning for their fourth All-Ireland in succession, in Sunday’s semi-final.
While the bookmakers no longer offer markets on the grade, had they not abandoned the practice, Kerry would surely be unbackable favourites.
The Kingdom are unbeaten in 22 matches, having beaten Cork by 2-17 to 1-10 and slaughtered a decent Clare side – who subsequently ran Dublin to seven points – by 2-21 to 0-3, having earlier beaten them by 16 points already.
Last time out, they were 1-22 to 2-9 winners over Louth in the quarter-final. Their go-to man is David Clifford, who has bagged 3-27 in those four matches, 2-17 of that coming from play, with a 45 against Clare and a sideline kick against the Rebels thrown in for good measure.
Unlike Kerry, Cavan have gone into each match as underdogs; like the Munster giants, though, they have no shortage of firepower.
Against an athletic, well-fancied Monaghan, they conceded eight points in succession in the second quarter yet turned it around to win by 3-14 to 1-15.
Next time out against Down, Cavan were two goals down and won pulling up by 0-15 to 2-7, with midfielder James Smith making 12 marks.
A powerful Derry side were comfortable seven-point winners in the Ulster final but Cavan still posted a healthy 2-12.
And against Galway, who had coasted to a Connacht title, Cavan looked finished when they trailed by 0-10 to 0-6 after 45 minutes but they turned it around to win by a goal, with centre-forward Cian Madden and trigger man Oisín Pierson – a lefty who has bagged 1-18 to date – the stars.
The contrast could not be starker. Sunday will mark Cavan’s first MFC semi-final since 1974 while this Kerry crop are fast establishing themselves as the greatest minor side of them all. Nine of the Kerry squad have played in Croker before; Cavan made the trip last Monday evening to acquaint themselves with the stadium for the first time.
And yet there is an unusual air of uncertainty around the Kingdom, especially since their under-17s – under the same management – slipped to an unexpected reversal against Roscommon in last week’s semi-final.
Much will come down to the midfield battle, where Cavan are strong with Smith and Ulster under-18 rugby player Ronan Patterson while Kerry also have a powerful pairing in Diarmuid O’Connor and Barry Mahony.
Experience of the big day and the presence of the precocious Clifford should tip the scales, however.