By Peter O’ Dwyer
Kerry and Cork will face off in the latest instalment of an epic rivalry this Sunday at Austin Stack Park with the home side in need of a win to have any chance of progressing to the league semi-finals.
Éamon Fitzmaurice’s Kerry have mirrored their league performance of a year ago with a dire start to the campaign followed by a strong finish that now leaves them in contention of extending their season.
To do so, they need to beat their near neighbours who, on nine points, are assured of a semi-final berth, and hope both Dublin and Mayo lose their respective matches.
Given the Derry side picked to face Mayo at MacHale Park that seems an unlikely prospect but Fitzmaurice’s men can only focus on delivering a home win on Sunday.
Last week’s 2-15 to 0-13 win over Westmeath was the Kingdom’s third in a row having seen off Tyrone and Kildare in previous weeks. Fitzmaurice has a near full-strength squad available to pick from now, excluding long-term absentees, but has chosen to make just two changes for this game.
Both come in the half-forward line where Donnchadh Walsh and Daithí Casey come in for Jonathan Lyne and Bryan Sheehan.
Brian Cuthbert’s Cork secured a semi-final place in taking a point in last week’s thrilling draw with Tyrone in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Cuthbert has made six changes to the side that lined out last week but has retained a number of key men in what still constitutes a strong line-up.
Ken O’ Halloran returns between the sticks in place of David Hanrahan while Jamie O’ Sullivan replaces the injured Eoin Cadogan.
On his first start of the season, O’ Sullivan will form a full-back line that also includes Tom Clancy and Michael Shields.
The half-back line has an entirely new look about it with dual-star Damien Cahalane making his first start of the season for the footballers, while Patrick Clancy takes the centre back jersey with James
Loughrey on his other side.
Paul Kerrigan is replaced in the half-forward line by Colm O’ Driscoll, while Barry O’ Driscoll comes in at corner-forward ahead of Daniel Goulding.
The sides have already met this year when Cork took the spoils in a 1-10 to 0-11 victory in the McGrath Cup final in January. The Kingdom fared better in both last year’s league game and crucially, in the Munster final – winning on that occasion by 1-16 to 0-17.
While the clip above is a joy to watch, both sets of players and fans will be acutely aware that the finest exponents of Kerry’s passing game last year: Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin and Declan O’Sullivan will all absent on Sunday.
With so much upheaval in both squads in the interim, Sunday’s game should be an intriguing barometer of both teams’ Championship readiness.
Throw-in at Austin Stack Park is at 3pm tomorrow.
1.Brian Kelly (Killarney Legion)
2.Paul Murphy (Rathmore)
3.Mark Griffin (St Michaels/Foilmore)
4.Shane Enright (Tarbert)
5.Peter Crowley (Laune Rangers)
6.Fionn Fitzgerald (Dr Crokes)
7.Marc Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht)
8.Anthony Maher (Duagh)
9.David Moran (Kerins O’Rahillys)
10.Donnchadh Walsh (Cromane)
11.Daithí Casey (Dr Crokes)
12.Kieran O’Leary (Capt, Dr Crokes)
13.Stephen O’Brien (Kenmare)
14.Paul Geaney (Dingle)
15.James O’Donoghue (Killarney Legion)
1. Ken O’Halloran (Bishopstown)
2. Michael Shields (Captain – St. Finbarr’s)
3. Jamie O’Sullivan (Bishopstown)
4. Tom Clancy (Clonakilty)
5. James Loughrey (Mallow)
6. Patrick Kelly (Ballincollig)
7. Damien Cahalane (Castlehaven)
8. Fintan Goold (Macroom)
9. Andrew O’Sullivan (Castletownbere)
10. Colm O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCárthaigh)
11. Mark Collins (Castlehaven)
12. John O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers)
13. Barry O’Driscoll (Nemo Rangers)
14. Brian Hurley (Castlehaven)
15. John Hayes (Carbery Rangers)