Cork v Kerry: Rebels have a cause but odds still stacked against them

'Main concern Cork have now is trying to get enough scores against a side that had the best defensive record in the league by a distance.'
Cork v Kerry: Rebels have a cause but odds still stacked against them

Kerry’s Gavin White and Sean Powter of Cork battle in last year's Munster football final. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IN the lead-up to last year’s Munster football final, Seán Powter spoke of the genuine belief within the Cork panel that they were going to beat Kerry.

Powter based that conviction on the bond the group had formed since the previous year’s Munster final defeat to Tipperary, fused together with the confidence brought to the table by players who won an All-Ireland U20 title in 2019.

“I fully believe we’re going to beat them,” said Powter. “We’ve beaten them all the way up, U21/U20, and we beat them (at senior) last year. We have a Munster final to rectify and that’s been biting us since November last year.

“I think that the younger players have an arrogance about them. Since winning the U20 final, they feel, ‘Jeez, I can take on the world,’ and that has fed up to the older fellas. There is a genuine belief that we’re going to go down to Killarney and win a Munster final.” 

It was easier, and more reassuring, for the supporters to hear those comments when they were coming from Powter. 

He was Cork’s best player when they beat Kerry in the 2020 championship, while Powter always played with the confidence, spikiness and tearaway style that Cork needed to show if they were to have any chance of beating Kerry again. That Sunday though, Kerry blew any notions Cork had to smithereens. 

By the end of the match, Cork’s skin was torn and shredded from the kind of flogging Cork thought they were incapable of suffering again against Kerry so soon after turning them over just eight months earlier.

A 22-point beating and Cork’s biggest defeat to Kerry in a Munster final was bound to leave a deep cut, but Kerry’s underlying intention that afternoon was for that wound to leave much more than just a visible scar.

And the biggest fear for Cork – and their supporters – in the aftermath was the long-term psychological trauma it could potentially leave.

Kerry’s attitude to Cork was brimming with malice; they didn’t want to just win - they wanted to set Cork back years. 

After another dismal league campaign, that fear that Kerry set them back years is more real than ever. A natural byproduct is that the mindset of Cork supporters is heavily burdened again by trepidation now that they’re meeting Kerry again.

Whatever the supporters think, the players have to think the opposite. Cork were also annihilated in the 2018 Munster final, but they turned it around within 12 months and gave Kerry a right rattle in 2019, before beating them a year later.

The dynamics though are vastly different this time around. Kerry did reach the 2019 league final but Mayo’s greater physical power and strength in that game underlined how a young Kerry team was still playing catch up in S&C.

That was a factor in the 2019 Munster final because Cork looked stronger and fitter than had been in 2018. 

Yet if Kerry looked on a different level to Cork in terms of S&C last July, that was even more evident again during this year’s league.

Tempers flare at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney last summer. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Tempers flare at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney last summer. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The other main concern Cork have now is trying to get enough scores against a side that had the best defensive record in the league by a distance. Kerry only conceded an average of 0-13. They only coughed up an average of 21.5 shots per game, with just an average of 13 from inside 30 metres. 

The opposition only managed an average of 0.6 goals shots per game.

In a division below them, Cork only averaged 1-13, but that number spiked in their last two games against Down and Offaly, both of whom were relegated. 

Cork may have scored an impressive 1-21 in that crucial last game against Offaly, but they also shipped 1-20. What damage might Kerry do on the scoreboard? 

All the talk about Kerry’s parsimony during the league clouded what Kerry were doing at the other end of the field. Kerry scored 13 goals in the league. 

As a comparison, Tyrone, Mayo and Dublin, last year’s other All-Ireland semi-finalists, scored 13 goals between them. 

Under Jack O’Connor, Kerry have looked leaner, meaner and stronger all over the field. In last year’s Munster final, David Clifford failed to score from play, but he looked almost untouchable in some games this spring, especially in the league final.

DAMAGE

What’s more, Seán Meehan, who did such a fine job on Clifford last July, is not available because of injury. Clifford was limited to four assists, but if he has the same volume of possessions, 21, on Saturday, he’s capable of inflicting colossal damage.

During the week, Cork interim manager John Cleary said that the squad’s stance on insisting the game go ahead in Páirc Uí Rinn has given them an “identity”. Cork had their cause and, while having the game at home is an advantage, it has also given Kerry their own silent cause.

Paudie Clifford of Kerry in action against Kevin O’Donovan of Cork. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Paudie Clifford of Kerry in action against Kevin O’Donovan of Cork. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kerry chairman Patrick O’Sullivan recently said that not everybody in the county was agreeable to the board’s decision to accept Cork’s request. After last year’s affair with Tyrone, that is sure to have included most of the Kerry panel.

Outside of the noise around the venue in recent weeks, Cork have kept a low profile. 

Nobody has said anything like what Powter expressed last year. Cork have to believe they can beat Kerry, but they certainly haven’t been entitled to express any of those claims now that they could last July.

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