Times have moved on for the Rebels

Nobody attending Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday will be expecting a revelation. Cork are a work in progress and will remain so regardless of the result.

Tralee last April taught them how little should be made of this time of year. Their seismic shift in strategy will be a refiner model next time they meet. 

This school of thought extends to Kerry’s personnel. Sunday’s win over Dublin showed the growing options in their panel but when Colm Cooper, James O’Donoghue, Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony are marked absent as they will be this weekend observers will be robbed of a truer image.

Cork themselves won’t be showing all of their hand. Not exactly because they don’t want to but Ian Maguire’s U21 commitments mean he’s unlikely to be involved, thus depriving Ken O’Halloran of any genuine alternative from kicking short to mid range.

Worryingly for them, Kerry showed in Killarney three days ago, they are the best counter kick-out team around. Some facts, though, will prevail until the summer.

Where once Cork boasted brute force around the middle, they now depend on craft and doing so in numbers.

When Brian Cuthbert in Ballyshannon admitted Cork suffered from “a lack of size and strength” against Donegal, it put into perspective how much times have moved on since the Counihan era ended in 2013.

Kerry’s pool exhibited at the moment should just be as deep come the summer and it may just be that the likes of Ó Sé, O’Mahony and the recently-returned Paul Galvin will alternate between starting or finishing games but not both.

On performance and performance alone should Sunday’s game be judged. Just once in their last five Division 1 meetings has a team succeeded both in spring and the summer fare of the Munster championship.

That came two years ago when Kerry did the double although they enjoyed home advantage on both occasions. In the Noughties, when they shared the same division and faced one another in Munster, Kerry did “the double” on three occasions (2000, ‘04, ‘07).

But not since 1990 have Cork achieved the feat when they won the league game 1-15 to 1-10 in Cork before repeating the trick again on their home patch by a handsome 15 points in the provincial final, 2-23 to 1-11.

But just as their league results have proven to be an imposter in the grander scheme of things and March 8 is a poor man’s July 5, Kerry haven’t forgotten that embarrassment in Austin Stack Park last April.

They were hounded for it and they hounded themselves. “You’re kind of questioning are you a true Kerry player and do you deserve to be wearing that shirt?” said James O’Donoghue.

Neither have Cork let escape that humiliation in front of their own three months later.

“Personally, I’ll never forget the Munster final and I’m sure a lot of the boys won’t,” James Loughrey recalled last month.

Pride is on the line but just enjoy Sunday for what it is — not for what it might point to.


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