OK, ok. Of course it is a bit dramatic to say that it is a disadvantage to win a Munster Championship. This argument has to be tempered by a few salient facts.
A Munster medal is a valuable commodity and players are, or should be, greedy for honours. A Kerry-Cork encounter regardless of competition or venue is always must win. It is the first time in 20 years a Cork team are playing Kerry as All-Ireland champions which gives confidence to the holders and massive appetite to the home team. Cork have not beaten Kerry in Killarney since 1995. If Cork win on Sunday it continues their development from last September and gives further confidence for an inevitable Croke Park showdown. If Kerry emerge victorious some of the old questions will resurface for the Rebels.
However if the local rivalry is stripped back and we study the bigger picture a different set of realities emerge. The bigger picture for both Jack O Connor and Conor Counihan involves September and nothing less than Sam Maguire will satisfy them.
Ironically and perhaps perversely the team that loses tomorrow will be better prepared for the next part of the journey towards the summit.
The victors face a four-week lay off to an All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park. During the intervening period important county and club championship games will be played. This seriously disrupts the squad at an important time.
Players are susceptible to injury and are also playing at a lower level, with different players and under managements that have very different and predominantly inferior modus operandi.
When the players return to training it can be very difficult to regain the intensity levels that were achieved for a Munster final.
They will be facing into a team with at least one victory under their belt and with that vital and illusive ingredient of momentum. Last year Kerry won the Munster championship and because of club games played in the interlude we had only two full-on belting football sessions.
It was not enough as was subsequently proven in the defeat to a match sharp Down team.
The team that loses tomorrow has to deal with and get over the initial disappointment of the defeat. Usually the predominant emotion after such a loss is an appetite and eagerness to put the record straight.
Often more is learned in defeat then in victory. Sometimes a win can paper over cracks that are starting to emerge but return as major fault lines at the worst possible time.
A loss means hard questions are asked and have to be answered. Flawed systems, lacklustre training methods or out of form players are exposed and it jolts management into making the necessary alterations to ensure the team improves for the only game that matters, Croke Park football.
Also when a team gets a bit of a public battering after a defeat it can have a fierce unifying effect. Additionally from a practical point of view they will face much less disruption from county championship fixtures with the panel staying together playing real tough football that conditions them for a proper Croke Park assault.
It can be argued that a bit of good fortune is required with the draw as generally at this stage there are a few big guns emerging through the qualifiers.
However I feel that any team that has realistic aspirations of winning an All-Ireland has to be willing and able to beat anyone by the end of July.
The oft-quoted Vince Lombardi once said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Normally he is right and while both teams will be all out for victory in Killarney, amazingly in these unusual circumstances the team that loses may well benefit more in the long run.
CONOR COUNIHAN has memories of worrying times from last July. The trek to the south-east, where his Cork side fought in monsoon rains in Wexford Park to stave off the persistent and sticky challenge posed by the home outfit.
Then six days later he headed for the dressing rooms at the end of normal time with the task of reviving his team for an additional period, while all around him the Limerick supporters in the Gaelic Grounds had been whipped into frenzy by the manner of their team’s sensational late comeback.
Jack O’Connor can relate to that sense of anxiety in July. 12 months previously he watched his Kerry players survive a stern test in Pearse Park against a Longford team who make a habit out of making life difficult for the elite. Then there was the sense of relief at seeing Diarmuid Murphy’s palms interrupt the flight of the ball from David Kelly’s foot as Sligo were on the cusp of a momentous win in Tralee. And finally there was a tough afternoon in Tullamore when they overcame a greatly-improved Antrim team.
Of course by September of both years, those scares paled into significance. Indeed Counihan and O’Connor could both consider that it was surviving those gut-checks in small provincial towns that had ensured they were made of the right stuff when the action shifted to the capital.
But having travelled down that nerve-shredding road, do they really want a repeat journey? It’s a question they will have asked themselves and their players ahead of tomorrow’s showdown in Killarney.
It’s true that a defeat is not as disastrous as if it had occurred at the provincial semi-final stage. A Munster final loss will mean only one qualifier hurdle to overcome as opposed to three.
Yet that does not mean it is a palatable scenario either. They are those peddling the theory that irrespective of whether it is Canty or Cooper hoisting the silverware into the air from the O’Sullivan Stand after 3.30pm tomorrow, both teams are guaranteed to be locking horns in Croke Park in September.
That type of view is lazy and misguided. It may have panned out like that in the past but it’s pertinent to acknowledge that both Cork and Kerry have been indebted to favourable pairings emerging when the qualifier draw drum is spun.
That luck has to run out eventually and consider the heavyweights they could potentially face in round 4. It could be a Kildare team with momentum behind them, a fit Daryl Flynn around the middle and Johnny Doyle restored to spearheading their attack.
Maybe it will be a Tyrone side with their shooting attuned successfully in front of goal and the bad vibes of last Sunday in Clones dispelled. Perhaps it’ll be Down, Armagh or Meath, teams smarting after provincial exits and having since restored confidence.
These are not the sort of collisions either Counihan or O’Connor would fancy. Indeed if they did materialise, it’s worth ascertaining what sort of condition either Cork or Kerry would be in at that stage.
The amount of time allotted to either manager for their qualifier preparations will be squeezed by club commitments. For Cork, a loss tomorrow would create doubts considering Counihan has himself admitted this is their first serious test of the summer and he is unsure where his team stand after two Munster whitewashes.
For Kerry, defeat would generate similar questions about their capacity to reinvent themselves for another tilt at All-Ireland honours.
The qualifiers have always been an arena of uncertainty, with Counihan and O’Connor both having first-hand experience of that. Why take the risk of stepping into the unknown?
Achieve success tomorrow and there will be no provincial minefields to negotiate, instead it will be the open prairies of Croke Park they can look forward to for the rest of the summer. That’s the dream both dressing rooms tomorrow will hope to realise.