Dara Ó Cinnéide: Cork can’t be trusted when the flies come

It’s a measure of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s standing in Kerry that the decision to relegate Colm Cooper to the bench today was met if not with indifference then with a rueful sense of acceptance.

Dara Ó Cinnéide: Cork can’t be trusted when the flies come

There are, of course, mitigating circumstances as Cooper is still getting back to match fitness after the cruel injury that robbed him (and us) of a precious year in his illustrious career, but, more than anything, the decision is a testament to Fitzmaurice’s fierce, unyielding pragmatism.

By winning an All-Ireland from nowhere last year the Kerry manager has earned the right to leave the greatest player of his generation, beloved like no other in his native Kingdom, on the sideline.

Our gut instinct might tell us that any team is better for having Colm Cooper in it and that the game itself is that little bit more lovely when he plays it, but we’ve long since stopped second guessing Fitzmaurice and his management team.

So while we will miss that extra frisson of excitement and possibility that comes before every game that Cooper starts, there is a certain thrill too to be had in observing the latest manifestation of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s singular brand of North Kerry ruthlessness.

With Fitzmaurice’s team selections there are very rarely hidden agendas or long-term ruses.

He doesn’t tend to play politics or poker with players’ reputations.

In Thursday night’s announcement he was making a starkly uncomplicated statement: This is the starting fifteen and bench that I believe are best capable of winning this game.

The Kerry manager showed before last year’s epic semi-final replay in Limerick that he doesn’t regard throwing the odd dummy as being beneath him, but as a general rule there’s no need to dig much deeper. When Fitzmaurice says players will be chosen on the evidence of training ground form, or that reputation counts for nothing, he is not simply mouthing platitudes from Inter-County Management 101. He means it.

Just ask his fellow North Kerryman Anthony Maher.

Maher was a star performer in Thurles last time out and his emergence as one of the best and most consistent midfielders in the country was crucial to last year’s success. Tomorrow he starts on the bench.

Or ask Barry John Keane. The case of Keane represents the bright side of the Dark Knight of Finuge’s crusade. Keane is indulged by the Kerry public as a fragile talent useful in the League and in the loose at the end of championship games, a good man to plug a gap when more reliable performers are unavailable.

Today, due to reported flying form in training, he retains his position at corner forward as Paul Geaney, another of last year’s key performers, makes way.

Whether Fitzmaurice would go into an All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal or a final against Dublin with Colm Cooper kicking his heels on the sideline is, obviously, another matter entirely.

So where does all the tinkering leave Kerry? Well, for a start, they now have a bench as garlanded with All-Stars and All Ireland medals as any seen in Kerry since the great Páidí Ó Sé and co. plonked their posteriors in the dug out before the 1988 Munster Final. The likes of Cooper, Maher, the Geaneys, Darren O’ Sullivan and Paul Murphy are all proven performers and serious options.

The restoration of Stephen O’ Brien and Donnchadh Walsh alongside Johnny Buckley on the 40 gives the half-forward line a more industrious look, although it will obviously want for creative genius in the absence of Cooper.

If we are to take the Cork selection at face value, the half back line of Barry O’Driscoll, Brian O’ Driscoll and Stephen Cronin has a callow look about it but is brimful of running potential and will not have any of the baggage of previous encounters with Kerry. However, given Jamie O’Sullivan’s impressive showing against Kerry in March, it is hard to imagine that he won’t have a major role to play.

Cork’s kickout strategy is what I am looking forward to more than any other aspect of the game. It is well flagged that Kerry like to put pressure on the opposition kickout and up until the league final Ken O’Halloran had great success with his short kickouts, which were usually aimed at Eoin Cadogan and Mark Collins. The fact that Dublin cracked O’Halloran so often and so easily in that game, has forced a rethink and given that Cork are starting with at least one conventional midfielder, Alan O’ Connor, for the first time in ages can we now expect it to be a more blood and guts type plan from Cork for all restarts?

Winning a bigger share of opposition kickouts is one area where Brian Cuthbert and his management will see measurable room for improvement. Brendan Kealy is one of the best keepers in the game for weighing his kickout exactly but he could be in for an uncomfortable afternoon if Cork break with recent habits and go after his kickout.

There appears to be very few if any truly natural man- marking corner backs in the Cork squad. Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan and James Loughrey have all done decent jobs on good forwards in the past but you sense all three would be happier further out the field and away from the likes of James O’ Donoghue and Barry John Keane.

For all the criticism that Cork have shipped recently, it has at least been obvious that they are experimenting with different game plans designed to get the lethal inside duo of Brian Hurley and Colm O’ Neill on the ball more often. Placing Donncha O’ Connor on the forty makes sense as he can ping passes to Hurley and O’ Neill off either left or right and Cork will hope to get both O’ Connor and Mark Collins on the ball early and often because they usually take the right options in possession. If Cork were to turn over possession a few times early in the game, it could give rise to doubts on the terraces, on the sideline and on the field.

It is doubtful that a Cork team still scrambling for an identity even care what is thought of them outside their own camp but being as maligned as they are, strangely enough, should give them the freedom to express themselves a bit more. There is surely no better place than Fitzgerald Stadium on Munster final day.

I was reminded, as players were being eaten alive by the corr-mhíola or midges at training in Gallaras this week of a conversation I had in March with the great Cork Gael, Con Paddy O’Sullivan from Urhan.

Cork beating Kerry in a game of league football at that time of the year, according to Con Paddy, ‘is no good until the flies come out’.

The flies are out in force and tomorrow will tell us if the hosing Kerry got in March is of any good to Cork.

I doubt it will be and mainly because you simply can’t trust Cork, I take Kerry to win.

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