It should be third time lucky for Kerry

NO matter what way you look at it, Cork footballers face an intimidating challenge in taking on Kerry for the third time in six weeks in tomorrow’s Bank of Ireland championship semi-final in Croke Park (4pm).

The fact that Kerry failed to beat them on consecutive weeks in the two Munster finals is only of minor significance because of a remarkable recovery of form in the interim period.

Most of all, Kieran Donaghy’s metamorphosis from a midfielder into a rampaging full-forward represents a serious threat to Cork ambitions of making the final for the first time since 1999. He’s a star in the making, except that he needs to learn to behave with more dignity on the field.

Nobody can presume that Derek Kavanagh won’t be able to do any better than Francie Bellew did for Armagh, or that Cork are incapable of doing well enough outfield to limit the quality of ball directed into Donaghy.

However, the loss of Graham Canty represents a double whammy for Billy Morgan and his players. Add the manager’s sideline ban and it puts him under additional pressure.

But, Morgan has never been one to shy away from a challenge, all the more so one involving Kerry, and the Cork backroom team have had two weeks to plan their strategy for this game. Clearly, it will involve Kavanagh trying to compete in the air with Donaghy in a bid to lessen his influence. And, linked to this will be the requirement to curb the threat from Colm Cooper and Mike Frank Russell in the corners.

Most importantly of all, Cork’s prospects of victory may depend hugely on how successfully they can compete for possession around midfield and at half-forward.

In effect, this area may be where the game is won and lost. There seems little possibility of Darragh Ó Sé or Nicholas Murphy being shut out of the play for long periods and, on current form, Kerry’s half-backs could dominate. So, it will be all about which team makes the most of its possession in attack. And, that’s why the Donaghy factor is likely to be so crucial in giving Kerry an edge.

Even if Cork get back to the level of their Munster final replay display, the reality is that they would need to go up a further notch or two to match the way Kerry played against Armagh.

It all adds up to an intriguing battle, one that I can’t envisage Cork winning unless they come up with a strategy to outwit Donaghy and they play above themselves.

Kerry’s revival of fortunes has been nothing short of spectacular and, while I suggested after their defeat in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that an All-Ireland title was beyond their capability, that view has since been turned on its head.

Verdict: Kerry.

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