BEFORE Monaghan played Kerry in the 2018 All-Ireland minor football semi-final, Seamus McEnaney – then Monaghan minor manager and current senior manager – made a call to a contact in Cork for some research on his side’s opponents.
En route to that match, Kerry had beaten Tipperary, Clare and Roscommon by an aggregate margin of 44 points. The only team that had given Kerry a game was Cork, who Kerry edged over the line by one point in Tralee in the Munster semi-final in May.
McEnaney was looking to see where he might find some weaknesses but there weren’t too many forthcoming. Kerry, McEnaney was told, were a brilliant side.
And, while he was on the phone, the Cork contact also offered McEnaney some future scouting advice. “If you think this Kerry side is top class,” he told McEnaney “wait until you see next year’s team. They are far better again.”
Despite how close Cork had often come to Kerry at minor level in recent years, that admission may have underlined a deep fear many in Cork still had of Kerry.
Either way, Cork found out that there was some truth to that prediction last May when Kerry annihilated their minors by 16 points in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Cork recovered, scraping past Clare to reach the Munster final, but they got injured players back and their form clearly picked up. Kerry won that provincial final by three points, but Cork came through the qualifiers to win the All-Ireland.
Kerry’s quest for six-in-a-row went up in flames after Galway scalped them in the All-Ireland semi-final. Cork played brilliant football to beat Galway in the final but, the pain of missing out on an All-Ireland was all the more galling again for Kerry as they watched a team they had already beaten twice go on to lift the Tom Markham Cup.
In some ways, that was nearly worse for Kerry than being actually beaten in an earlier round by their great rivals. Especially when they believed that they had Cork’s number.
There was far more history, bad blood and animosity between the groups at the time, but Paul Galvin once painted a clear picture of how Kerry felt – or you imagine would still feel - in that situation.
In the documentary on the former Kerry player, titled ‘Galvinised’, which was released at the end of 2010, Galvin spoke about the day of the 2010 All-Ireland final between Cork and Down.
Galvin had no interest in going to the match but he was otherwise busy that day anyway because he was on a friend’s stag party. He was making his way there while the second half of the match was on.
“I came down the hill to where the boys were having the stag,” said Galvin. “Three of them were standing outside the door. I was thinking ‘There must have been a row here.’
“One of them was sitting on the window-sill like this (Galvin puts his hand over his face). The other fella was staring into space. The third boy was standing, talking to himself.
“I said, ‘Boys, what’s up? They went (Galvin shakes his head) ‘F***ing Cork’. I looked in the window and Cork were about to lift the Sam (Maguire).
"All the boys had left. They couldn’t watch it.”
Kerry had already beaten Cork in the 2010 Munster semi-final replay. Watching Cork win that All-Ireland only sharpened Kerry’s desire to beat Cork again the next time they met them in a big game, which they did, in the 2011 Munster final.
No matter what, Kerry never like to see Cork get ahead of them. And that focus will be all the sharper again now after last year’s minor championship, and particularly after last year’s Munster U20 final, when Cork stunned Kerry with a devastating performance.
The margin of victory (13 points) may have been a surprise, especially against a side packed with multiple All-Ireland minor winners, but a Cork win wasn’t a total shock - Cork gave Kerry some of their hardest games in the minor championship over their five-in-a-row All-Ireland crusade.
Kerry just always found a way and that minor game two years ago was a prime example. A Conor Corbett equalising goal in the 61st minute looked set to take the game to extra time but Kerry held their nerve and Jack O’Connor kicked the winning score.
The defeat marked a fifth consecutive summer where the county’s minor campaign ended at the hands of their neighbours.
Cork were always the hunters in those matches but now the dynamic has changed, and Cork are the hunted.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Munster U20 final, Cork have six starters involved from last year’s Munster U20 final while Kerry have four. One of those Kerry starters was a sub against Limerick in last week’s Munster semi-final, which further underlines Kerry’s huge depth and volume of talent.
Cork have always done well at this level; Cork won 10 Munster U21 titles in 14 years between 2004-17. Kerry may have won the inaugural U20 provincial title in 2018 but Cork gave them a run for their money in the final.
This time around though, Kerry are the hunters. They’ll want to restore the advantage many of these players have always enjoyed over Cork, while they’ll be even more voracious in Tralee tomorrow evening.
A lot of these Cork players have tasted success now, especially against Kerry. They know they are every bit as good, but Cork will have to match Kerry’s ferocity, and thirst for revenge, first.