Peter Keane knows there is so much more than just a Munster final berth at stake this evening.
There are no second chances on offer for whoever comes up short at Páirc Uí Rinn and so, for one team, the curtain will fall on their championship campaign less than a month after it began. For the winners, there’s the guarantee of football until the August Bank Holiday weekend. By that stage, whoever wins at Páirc Uí Rinn will stand one hour from an All-Ireland semi-final.
For Kerry, there is a near four-year winning streak to protect and a four-in-a-row All-Ireland bid to keep alive.
For the hosts, their priorities centre on reversing the county’s poor run of form against the Kingdom at this level - not since 2010 has a Cork minor team edged their neighbours in a knockout fixture.
The Kerry team, which had 13-points to spare in their quarter-final fixture against Clare, contains four survivors from last year’s all-conquering team but manager Peter Keane cannot understand why there is so much hype surrounding the current crop given they’ve only one game played. Moreover, the manager believes the odds are stacked heavily against a Kerry victory on Cork soil.
“Look at the last three years, we were two points down midway through the second-half of last year’s Munster final. Cork should have beaten Kerry in Tralee two years ago. The year previous, Kerry won by two points on a wet day above in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. There is nothing between them. If you are looking at that in Cork for the last three years and seeing each Kerry team going on to win an All-Ireland, you mean to tell me that won’t get these Cork fellas going, especially with the work they’ve put in over the last six months,” Keane remarked.
“Cork got to the final of the Leinster minor league. They have a lot of last year’s squad available. From what I am hearing, they have a lot of work put in to have this team ready for May.” He added: “They kicked 3-21 the last day against Tipperary, that is massive. They have two fellas in the middle of the field, Mark Keane and Ryan Walsh, who are around 6’4. They have huge physique. Damien Gore is a beautiful player at corner-forward, Mark Cronin is in the other corner and Colm O’Callaghan on the forty. You have some really good forwards by Cork. By God, this is going to be some battle. We will have a job beating these fellas, no matter what way you look at it. That you are playing Cork and that you are playing them away, all the odds are stacked against us at this stage.”
Also feeding into Keane’s thinking here is the somewhat disturbed preparation they’ve endured since the win over Clare.
“The only worry is the amount of football our lads have played in recent weeks. They have had county minor league games and adult senior games. Trying to keep them fresh is the biggest factor we have had.
“The big thing about this game is if you win you are guaranteeing yourself football until the first week of August so that gives you another 10 weeks to work with your team. That becomes so important because with the earlier part of the year, which we are now in, you have schools football, the Leaving Cert, minor county league and adult championship. Whereas if you get to the summer, you get a real opportunity to work with the players. If you manage to stay alive to that point, you can get a lot of work done with them and it is there that you will bring them on. That is why this game is so important. The alternative is that you are sitting at home and that is it.
“These fellas haven’t beaten Cork before. This is a new team. I think there has been a lot written about these guys and I can see no justification why there is any write up about Kerry. How can you judge if they are good or not? It is only with the fullness of time we will find that out.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved