With Kerry having temporarily abandoned the McGrath Cup and Cork mired in Division 2 of the league, meetings between the two counties have become sporadic of late.
This evening’s Munster final will be just the second championship collision of Cork and Kerry since the 2015 replayed provincial decider. Moreover, there’s been only one league game between them during that period — the 2016 fixture in Tralee where the hosts condemned the visitors to Division 2 football.
Just for a bit of context: Between 2001 and 2009, Cork and Kerry met 18 times in championship, but from 2010 to the present day, that number has halved.
Where once an intimate relationship existed, there’s a lack of familiarity between the 2018 classes. This Munster final, after all, is their first date in 12 months. And you’d have to go well back to find the last time almost a full year passed without a Cork-Kerry meeting.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice reckons the time apart has done neither county any harm. If anything, it has put freshness back into the rivalry.
“When I was playing, if you threw in the McGrath Cup and the league, you could end up playing four or five times in the one year. There was definitely the dynamic of familiarity breeding contempt,” the Kerry manager insisted.
“By comparison to when we were playing, there is definitely a freshness to this fixture. There’s definitely a different dynamic. We wouldn’t have the same level of knowledge about each other.
“There always is. Regardless of where a Liverpool or Man Utd are at a given time, when they play each other in a derby game, it is always going to be helter-skelter and is always going to be a tight game. I expect the same on Saturday.”
Owing to the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kerry haven’t played at the venue in four years. What they must do to secure a sixth consecutive Munster crown is “very black and white”, according to the Kingdom boss.
“If we are going to win, we have to go up and perform close to the top of our ability. If we don’t, we will be beaten. We know that ourselves.
“We’ve shown it during the league that when we are on and play well, we’re capable of delivering big performances, but when we’re off, we can be poor. We need to bring it and we need to play. And if we play at the top of our game, it will take a good team to beat us.”
From the Kerry team which trounced Clare last time out, only six started last year’s Munster final win over the Rebels. On the Cork team named this evening, eight began that same provincial decider.
A favourite word of Cork manager Ronan McCarthy since taking up the post has been “steady”, borrowed by Fitzmaurice to describe this evening’s opponents.
“The one thing that struck me about them during the league was they seem very steady. Their league, similar to ourselves, was a bit up and down, a bit topsy-turvy. But there was no knee-jerk, no over the top stuff from themselves or externally. It just seemed to be a positive climate. With that, you definitely keep the group together and you definitely get a bit of growth. We saw that in the Munster semi. They had a game-plan and had experience coming off the bench to finish the game. They had a lot of things you need.
A sizeable green and gold following is expected to sweep into Cork City late this afternoon, Kerry’s championship opener having attracted a crowd of 16,000-plus to Fitzgerald Stadium.
Less than two months on from his description of the relationship between the Kerry squad and supporters as “them and us”, Fitzmaurice believes the cohort of younger players who have graduated to the starting team will broaden their appeal.
“With a new generation of players and new heroes there, that’s always going to bring a bit of freshness and positive energy, as well. Because the game is on a Saturday evening and in Cork, I think a new generation of supporters will start following the team and following the team to matches.
“If you’re in your early 20s, going up to Cork on a Saturday evening and getting to go to a Munster final where possibly a buddy of yours or a clubmate is playing and you can go out in the town afterwards is a very attractive thing.
“When you are winning, it breeds that kind of positivity.”
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