Here’s the conventional viewpoint: these sides are coming into tomorrow’s Munster final from very different backgrounds. Champions, Dr Crokes are in their third consecutive final, while the Cork champions have ended a nine-year wait at county level and are seeking a first provincial win in 15 years.
Dr Crokes, who had seven points to spare over UCC at this stage last year, have not lost a county or provincial championship match since losing to Nemo Rangers in the 2010-11 decider. There can be only one result.
Really? Here’s an alterative scenario: Crokes are no Finuge. Where North Kerry teams thrive in winter conditions, Crokes are very much a top of the ground outfit. The venue will suit them more than Páirc Uí Rinn or Mallow may have, but they are more vulnerable at this stage of the season than any other part.
Castlehaven have already proved — twice — they can quarry out wins in vile conditions, and if this decider turns into a low-scoring war of attrition — and the weather forecast indicates it may be that — that will suit the Cork champions too. Their 7/2 odds in a two-horse race at a Cork venue are quite ludicrous.
Convinced? Perhaps not. We still can’t say whether Crokes have progressed in 2012 under Noel O’Leary. They cruised through in Kerry and the most rigorous examination of their intestinal fortitude came up in West Clare, where they edged a squeeker against Kilmurry-Ibrickane. Truth to tell, they were hanging on at the death because theirs is a young, light side.
Noel O’Leary has made no secret the Killarney club want a companion for the 1992 All-Ireland, with the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Crossmaglen last February remaining a frustration. However, they’re far too savvy to look beyond tomorrow — their toughest examination since Crossmaglen.
Castlehaven too are relatively young with Mark Collins, Damien Cahalane and Brian Hurley starring all year. However the Cork side do have a sprinkling of experience in the form of survivors from 2003 and should not be overawed.
If there is a worry, however, it is that their firepower does not match up to Crokes’. Collins and Hurley regularly account for about half of their output, though Shane Nolan has popped up with important goals, in the county final and against Dromcollogher-Broadford, and captain Seánie Cahalane and Stephen Hurley can also flash impressively into games.
Even so, Crokes have Colm Cooper, who will create almost as much as he will score, not to mention Kieran O’Leary and Daithí Casey. Brian Looney is also likely to chip in while Johnny Buckley and even Eoin Brosnan can maraud forward to get themselves on the score-sheet.
A tight, low-scoring encounter would suit the Haven’s counter-attacking style, whereas a shoot-out would only re-affirm Crokes’ status as favourites. It will probably be somewhere in between, but Crokes should edge it.
Verdict: Dr Crokes
Did You Know? If Castlehaven win, they will have won four Cork county titles and four Munster championships, though not in all the same years. Though 2003 is the only time they have not followed a county win with a Munster one, in 1997 they won the provincial title due to champions Beara being prevented from entering.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved