Tony Leen asks three key questions ahead of the clash between Cork and Kerry.
Are Kerry ready to entrust Peter Crowley with No 3 jersey for the summer?
As Colm Cooper explains on these pages, Kerry haven’t been slaves to the statuesque full-back for some time. Jack O’Connor, Pat O’Shea and Éamonn Fitzmaurice all prefer the mobile, swift No 3 — all the better if he had a bit of presence about him — and two like-minded corner-backs alongside. From Barry O’Shea more than 20 years ago through Mike McCarthy, Tom O’Sullivan, Tommy Griffin and Marc Ó Sé, the Kingdom’s brains trust has preferred going mano-a-mano in the full-back line against the best opposition could muster.
All was fine until the Dublin inside attack started getting feisty and the tight-marking options to deal with them began to dwindle dramatically in number. The issue escalated to full-blown crisis last autumn, when Andy Moran, at 33, led Kerry a merry dance at Croke Park.
Mark Griffin, Jason Foley and now Peter Crowley have been deployed as gatekeeper by current management, the latter largely untroubled in the championship opener against Clare. What happens from here on? From Luke Connolly to Damien Comer to, yes, Andy Moran, all manner of full- forwards could be coming down the tracks against Kerry.
Horses for courses is a great catch-all for explaining away the importance of defensive match-ups and the likelihood is that Crowley will be detailed on Cork danger man Connolly tonight.
However, Kerry might still probe the issue further and look at Tadhg Morley at full-back at some stage. Certainly, it’s not an issue, nor a position, Kerry has laminated yet.
Who’s going to be Luke’s second banana?
Luke Connolly still has a way to go to be categorised as ‘top top’, but unquestionably he’s become Cork’s go-to man in the space of a year. Nemo Rangers’ run to Croke Park in March might have foundered but for the mercurial attacker, who grabbed 2-5 in an extra-time semi-final win over Slaughtneil. He’s carried form into the summer, with 10 points against Tipperary, but an altogether sterner test awaits this evening against Kerry.
That being the case, which other Cork forward(s) will step up if Connolly is neutralised? Ronan McCarthy doesn’t play with six orthodox forwards — in fact, one could argue Connolly is the only out-and-out attacker selected for Cork tonight. Realistically, Mark Collins is the only other expected to chip in, at least until the likes of Paul Kerrigan and the Hurleys are introduced. It’s a huge ask of the Nemo man to be both outlet and finisher, and Cork will need someone else to step up if they hope to keep the scoreboard ticking over. It’s an issue extending beyond tonight’s final.
A winning loss
The only thing worse than losing a Munster final to Kerry at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh would be being hosed by Kerry at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It shouldn’t happen, but the threat of it has informed Ronan McCarthy’s strategies for the provincial decider. If that irks some Rebel fans, perhaps they need to greater understand the context and fragile state of Cork football. The performance (as much as the result) against Tipp was an important cornerstone and it has Cork folk curious again, but they’ve been burned before and, as Paddy Kelly said on these pages this week, they’ll walk away as quick as you might say ‘Rebel revival’.
Whatever about silverware this evening, Cork must maintain forward momentum. The season’s long yet.
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