The obvious starting point in any discussion regarding the decisive battlegrounds of this Munster final.
Operating in the middle of the field for Stacks are Joe O’Connor and Greg Horan, the latter’s form so impressive during the Tralee club’s run to county glory that it earned him a phone call from Jack O’Connor and an invitation to join the Kerry set-up.
Joe O’Connor, meanwhile, is heading into season number two with the Kingdom, with his county final man-of-the-match performance strengthening his case for a starting berth in an area where Kerry need players stepping up in David Moran’s injury-enforced absence. Horan and O’Connor know that success in shading the midfield department will go a distance in helping Stacks to be first across the line in Thurles (and vice-versa in the case of the Barrs).
But to do so, they’ll need to best the partnership of Eoin Comyns and the talismanic Ian Maguire, while also having to contend with Brian Hayes under each restart.
Piece of cake, right!
When the Barrs travelled down to Stacks for a challenge game last August, an open and flowing game of football ensued. The Barrs will want the exact same here — indeed manager Paul O’Keeffe intimated as much after his team’s Munster semi-final win before Christmas.
The Cork champions thrive in such unstructured contests, as evidenced by their county semi-final shootout against Castlehaven. And while O’Keeffe’s charges have shown themselves capable of grinding out results in defence first, low-scoring affairs, that’s a way of life Stacks are more comfortable with and prefer.
There’s going to be a clash of styles in Thurles and so crucial will be which side is able to force the other to bend to their way of doing things.
The young Stacks captain, off the back of his county championship exploits, is repeatedly mentioned in conversations concerning Kerry’s defensive imperfections and how the 21-year-old newcomer to the county set-up might just be part of the solution.
His credentials will be severely tested in the company of the in-form Sherlock, who is averaging eight points a game for the Cork city side. Said Barrs defender Alan O’Connor this week of their go-to man: “One area where he has definitely progressed is his work-rate, there is no easy out-ball. The other thing that he has tightened up is he takes the right shots on in games. It can’t be overlooked how good he has been this year in the championship.”