It’s 40-years this summer since Jack O’Connor first experienced a Cork-Kerry Munster senior football final and he’s expecting a similarly stirring atmosphere when the county’s emerging talents lock horns in this evening’s do-or-die provincial minor semi-final.
Munster football’s heavyweight pair have not clashed in a knockout fixture at senior level since 2012 and while recent U21 meetings have failed to grab local imagination, Kerry minor manager O’Connor is predicting a throwback to the 1970’s at Austin Stack Park later today.
Kerry enter the tie as reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions, while Cork travel west along the N22 with their most capable minor outfit assembled in recent history.
“That’s what we were brought up on — Kerry and Cork matches. I saw my first Munster senior final in 1975 when Mick O’Dwyer unleashed his young guns in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, sure we have been brought up on it and young lads in Kerry have been brought up on it so in many ways it’s a throwback to the old days,” he remarked of this latest Cork-Kerry instalment.
“Normally when Kerry and Cork meet at this level, there’s a back door, but there is no back door this time around, it’s all on the line. That adds spice to it, I’m sure there will be a big Kerry and Cork crowd here because the Cork crowd like coming to Kerry as well. It’s disappointing that the draw has fallen this way, but we knew this would be the case from a long way out.
“Whether the format should be changed or not is for another day as our total focus has to be on this game.
“Cork and Kerry knockout clashes in the old days brought their own atmosphere and I’m sure there will be a great atmosphere on Wednesday evening because both teams have a lot of work put in and nobody wants to be knocked out of the championship before the end of May.”
Of the team which lined out in their 0-14 to 0-3 quarter-final win over Clare, Dingle midfielder Mark O’Connor was the sole link to last September’s All-Ireland winning side.
The three-time All-Ireland winning senior manager admits the “biggest challenge” he has encountered in his current post was having to build a completely new squad despite last year’s run.
“You have to start from scratch again, while if you have an U21 or a senior team, you can build on work that you’ve done last year. With a minor team you’re starting from scratch every year. So yes, maybe mentally at the start of the year there was a bit of a challenge. Last year we had an exceptional group and I suppose they had to be exceptional to win the All-Ireland after 20 years. While we don’t have the same amount of firepower we had last year, every team has it’s characteristics and we feel this team is a very honest and hardworking group. We might be stronger in some areas than we were last year. On balance, we’re happy with the team, they’re mad for road.”
O’Connor added: “The 17-year-olds who were looking in at last year’s team were probably saying that they would like some of that success. So they came in at the start of this year hugely motivated and that has been very obvious from the start.”
With 2014 half-back Andrew Barry still sidelined through injury, a relatively inexperienced Kerry defence face a difficult task in curbing the influence of Cork’s forward unit — Shane Kingston, Gary Murphy and Dan Ó Duinnín earning special mention from the Kingdom boss.
“It is going to be a very tough game for us because Cork are a serious proposition, especially with their firepower. This is a well touted Cork team and we will have our hands full with them.
“Three or four of their forwards gave us a lot of bother in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year. A lot will depend on the kick-outs and who gets the lion’s share of possession.”
Whether the format should be changed or not is for another day as our total focus has to be on this game
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