THE Munster Football Championship kicks off this weekend, and while Cork are not in action they are bound to be interested in the outcomes of both quarter-finals in Limerick and Killarney.
Ronan McCarthy’s side play the winners of the Gaelic Grounds clash between Limerick and Waterford in the Munster semi-final on July 10th, but one eye will also, no doubt, be on how Kerry get on against Clare at Fitzgerald Stadium.
At this moment all evidence would suggest that Kerry are the most likely team to threaten Dublin’s monopoly on the All-Ireland title, and this weekend is the first chance we have to take stock of their championship credentials.
Last year ended in nightmare circumstances for Peter Keane’s side, losing to Cork with a last-minute Mark Keane goal in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, so the message from down west will very much centre around focusing on the provincial championship this year, to ensure that there are no similar hiccups this time around.
Their first test is against Colm Collins’ impressive Clare side, who have been making great strides in recent seasons, although in saying that, it is hard to make a case for a repeat of Clare’s famous 1992 scalp over the Kingdom.
Kerry and Clare actually clashed in the Munster Championship for four consecutive years from 2016 to 2019, and despite the tie often being touted as a potential banana skin game for Kerry that has never really transpired.
Kerry won by six-point margins in 2017 and 2019, and that is the closest that the Banner has come. A nine-point beating in 2016 and a 22 point mauling in 2018 were the other results.
Despite this record Clare have made huge progress in recent years, coming from the depths of Division 4 in the league to being on the verge of Division 1 in recent weeks. Ultimately, they fell just short in their quest to reach the top flight for the first time in their history, as they went down 2-18 to 2-22 to Mayo in Ennis.
The 2-18 they registered that day is extremely encouraging, however, as they notched 1-18 against Cork in the last round in Division 2 South a few weeks back, and this would suggest that they are capable of racking up a decent score against Kerry. Eoin Cleary and David Tubridy are in superb form at present and are their scorers in chief, and they know that they will have to score heavily in Killarney, as you expect that Kerry will certainly put up a big total at the other end.
David Clifford is the golden boy of Kerry football, and it goes without saying that Clare must restrict him in the manner that Cork managed last November, but the likes of Sean O’Shea, Killian Spillane and Paudie Clifford should ensure that Kerry reach, or at least get very close to, their 25 points league scoring average.
With regards to the other quarter-final, Limerick are coming off a positive league campaign, beating Munster champions Tipperary in Round 1 before going down to Offaly by two points in Round 2. They rounded off their Division 3 campaign with an impressive ten point victory over Wicklow at Aughrim to qualify for a Division 2 promotion play-off.
They lost that play-off to Derry by 0-17 to 0-13, although it is worth noting that Derry breezed through Division 3 North and afterwards trounced Offaly in the Division 3 decider by 12 points, and many are tipping them to rattle a few of the big guns in Ulster this year.
They may have fallen short in their quest for promotion, but they have proved that they are competitive and cannot be taken lightly by Cork, assuming that they see off the challenge of Waterford.
Waterford managed to beat Wexford in Division 4, but big defeats to Carlow and Antrim indicate that they are unlikely to trouble Limerick, whose attack of Hugh Bourke and Danny Neville should have too much firepower.
It is easy to forget that Limerick probably should have beaten eventual champions Tipperary in last year’s provincial semi-final, only losing in extra time by a solitary score, and they, in fact, beat the Premier in the championship the year before by seven points, so do not be surprised if Limerick show that they have to be taken very seriously by Cork in the semi-final.