A fifth consecutive Munster title is the carrot on offer for Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry on Sunday, which, should they beat Cork or draw, would also translate to a 12-game unbeaten run in the province.
As things stand, their 11-game march is superior to the county’s invincible run between 2003 and 2006 when they won nine provincial games in a row before drawing a final and the stretch was halted by a James Masters-inspired Cork in the replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Adding a 12th match without defeat would replicate the feat achieved by Kerry in the 1980 Munster final.
That team eventually went 18 games unbeaten.
The facts and figures of Kerry’s best Munster spell in 35 years:
- Kerry have found the net 19 times from 2013 to the victory over Clare earlier this month, failing to score a goal just once. They’ve registered 195 points.
- They have conceded 11 goals in the 11 games, keeping five clean sheets, three against Cork. They’ve shipped 119 points.
- Paul Geaney is top goal-scorer with four, followed by James O’Donoghue, Paul Murphy, Kieran Donaghy and the retired Colm Cooper with a brace each.
- Obviously, Fitzmaurice has yet to lose a game in the Munster SFC as manager and of the 21 players used against Clare in the semi-final in Ennis an impressive 13 have also not yet tasted senior provincial defeat never mind a SFC loss to Cork in a playing capacity — Brian Kelly, Fionn Fitzgerald, Mark Griffin, Shane Enright, Tadhg Morley, Paul Murphy, Jack Barry, Michael Geaney, Paul Geaney, Kevin McCarthy, Stephen O’Brien, Jack Savage, and Jonathan Lyne.
- Limerick are the only team Kerry have yet to face in Fitzmaurice’s term. They’ve clashed with Cork on four occasions, Clare and Tipperary (thrice) and Waterford once.
- Killian Young has started all but one of the 11 matches, injury ruling him out of the recent win in Cusack Park. Donnchadh Walsh has featured from the off in nine, coming off the bench in the other two.
- Brendan Kealy has started six of the 11 games in goal and Brian Kelly the other five.
- If anyone is looking at the team that started against Clare as an indication of what side Fitzmaurice may name this evening think again: In 2013, he made four changes for the final from the semi-final; in 2014, it was the same, while in 2015 it was five. Last year, late cry-off Peter Crowley was the only change. Then again, 2016 was the only time Kerry, in Fitzmaurice’s charge, have not faced Cork in a Munster final.
- The recent win over Clare was only the third time Geaney and O’Donoghue have started a Munster SFC game together, the previous coming against Cork in the 2014 final and the 2015 replay decider. In their three starting pairings, they have amassed a combined 1-28. All but nine points have been scored in open play.
- Of the team that began Fitzmaurice’s first Munster game in 2013, six are now retired — Marc and Tomás Ó Sé, O’Mahony, Paul Galvin, Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan.
- Four of Kerry’s games, all wins, have come on the road — Clare and Cork 2014, Tipperary 2015 and Clare this year.
- Kerry’s aggregate total in the four final clashes with Cork is 4-66 compared to Cork’s 3-57. O’Donoghue is the Kingdom’s top scorer in those games with 1-16.
- Since transferring from Antrim, Cork defender James Loughrey has yet to experience a championship win over Kerry having played in all four Munster meetings with them since. Ken O’Halloran has been in goals for all four of them also and outfield, as well as Loughrey, he has been joined on each occasion by Michael Shields and Paul Kerrigan. Brian Hurley, who is sidelined with a cruciate, all began all four matches.
- The aforementioned quartet of O’Halloran, Loughrey, Shields and Kerrigan comprise all but three of the Cork starters from the 2013 final defeat to Kerry, Aidan Walsh, John O’Rourke and Donncha O’Connor being the others.
- Roscommon’s Paddy Neilan takes charge of Sunday’s final. The referee breakdown for the previous 11 games reads: David Gough, Pádraig Hughes (2); Ciarán Branagan, Maurice Deegan, Marty Duffy, Martin Higgins, Fergal Kelly, Conor Lane, Cormac Reilly.