Ger O’Keeffe has taken issue with Cork and Kerry’s stay-away supporters, suggesting they are more interested in the occasion than the football.
With a crowd as low as 20,000 anticipated for Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, Kerry’s multiple All-Ireland winning selector and defender believes only the genuine fans will be in attendance.
“I know it’s different from my time when it was winner-takes-all but no management or players have ever said they would prefer to go into the backdoor.
“I don’t understand why there is such apathy among the public towards the match. Killarney always gets good crowds but invariably year after year the crowds in Cork have been diminishing.
“The people who are really interested in this game will travel to it and you have to ask is it the people who just go for the occasion who will be missing on Sunday?”
Cork goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran shares O’Keeffe’s thinking, likening Sunday’s final to the Old Firm in Glasgow.
“It’s probably the biggest rivalry in the country. The Celtic-Rangers in the GAA.
“It’s something you dream of playing in. The final game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh too. You just hope you can deliver a good performance on the day.”
O’Keeffe also praised Cork and Kerry for the brand of football they routinely provide when facing one another.
“These finals are invariably good games of football and it’s not as negative as it is played in other parts of the country. The GAA could do more to encourage a more expansive approach to Gaelic football.
“Certainly, you couldn’t criticise Kerry or Cork for playing negative football, which can stop fans from coming to games.”
However, O’Keeffe, who was on the Kerry team that won the classic 1976 Munster final replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the first provincial decider at the venue, appreciates it isn’t the most hospitable stadium.
“I remember playing in the old Athletic Grounds in ’73 when Cork scored five goals and you had to go down into the Showgrounds to tog out where the cattle were housed. It was no place for a team talk.
“I hope the designer of the new stadium will be as progressive as those were with Croke Park and consider the comforts of the players and supporters.
“One of the drawbacks regrettably from a player perspective was the size of the dressing rooms which are appalling. Neither the Cork County Board nor the Munster Council did anything about it.
“In ’76, it was a state of the art stadium but they’ve probably shown a certain level of apathy towards players in not doing anything about them.
“I hope there is a great emphasis placed on the players and that they are kept away from supporters. Coming out of dressing rooms, you’d be getting jostled and pushed. Maybe it helped the atmosphere but it wasn’t ideal.”
The Austin Stacks man believes there’s more incentive for Cork to win on Sunday as the first part of a Munster double with the hurlers than the prospect of giving the stadium a send-off before reconstruction work begins in the coming months.
“They’ll want to win and show the hurlers that if they can do it then the hurlers can too. That’s more significant than saying goodbye to the place with a win.”
O’Keeffe is particularly keen to see how Cork’s three dual players — Eoin Cadogan, Damien Cahalane and Aidan Walsh — perform having been chosen to start on Sunday despite not beginning the semi-final win over Tipperary.
“They have been tuned in for the hurling and now it’s back to the football. It would be difficult but you would have to give great credit to those filling that dual role.”
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