The mood of pessimism surrounding Cork football at present will suit Ronan McCarthy and his players going into Saturday’s Munster SFC final, according to Kerry manager Peter Keane.
Four league defeats in the spring sent Cork tumbling down to Division 3, further eroding public confidence in the county team following a pretty dire 2018 championship which ended with 17 and 16-point hammerings at the hands of Kerry and Tyrone respectively.
Cork have not beaten their neighbours in a Munster championship fixture since 2012, and it was 2008 when the Rebels last trumped Kerry in a provincial final. And while last year’s non-contest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was, by some distance, the most one-sided Munster championship fixture to play out between the counties during this period, Keane, determined not to give oxygen to the narrative that the odds are stacked heavily in his team’s favour, branded the 2018 provincial decider a “one-off”.
Quickly following this was an insistence that Cork football is not half as low as public opinion or relegation from Division 2 would suggest.
“It probably suits them for it to be said that they are gone down to Division 3. But we are not reading into that,” said Keane. “Before last year, it was nip and tuck. I believe last year was a one-off. Cork led for a lot of the opening 20 minutes. It just went away from them after that. And when a game goes against you, it is very hard to turn it back.
The manner in which Kerry waltzed through the 2018 Munster championship — a place in the aforementioned final was secured with a 22-point thumping of Clare — was of little benefit to come the Super 8s as Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s side fell terribly flat in their first game outside the province. It is put to Keane that Kerry need a 70-minute examination Saturday to be ready for the business end of the All-Ireland series.
“In answering that question, you are trying to pull me into a trap to say Saturday is going to be a non-event. I’m certainly not expecting it to be that way. I’m expecting it to be a real, real close tight game.
“Factor in what we are hearing over the last few weeks and months since the closing rounds of the league. You take the challenge games that Cork are playing. They’ve been very good. They’ve beaten a Dublin team and a Galway team. They led Donegal in the second last round of the league but just lost it. Something went against them. They beat Armagh. They’ve seven of their last eight games won. That’s a very strong driving momentum going into a Munster final.
On the wider debate regarding the future formatting of the All-Ireland SFC, Keane doesn’t see the provincial competitions being touched.
“I know there is a lot of traction been given to the tiered system and arranging some committee to look at that. I’d say there is a good chance the tiered system will happen, but I think it may run in conjunction with keeping your provincial championships. Does Munster help Kerry [going forward into All-Ireland series]? I don’t know. Last year, Kerry sailed through it. Did it help them? I don’t know. I’m sure when they were going up to play Galway in the Super 8s that they were in fine fettle and something just didn’t happen on the day. And when a game goes against you, it is very hard to pull the game back. Then they went up and had a right bloody battle in Clones on a cracking day above there.”
The Kerry manager, halfway through his first season at the helm, does not believe his players are carrying any baggage from their below-par showings in last year’s Super 8s. “Not from what I’ve seen anyway. We’ve worked hard over the past few months and we’re hopeful that everything will work out on Saturday. I think that if we go and perform and work our backside off, we have a chance.”
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