Monday 16 December 2019

Good start vital for inexperienced Rebels

Cork’s Paul Kerrigan
Cork’s Paul Kerrigan

Maybe it's a reaction to the monotony of Kerry's dominance of Munster, but it's hard to recall a time when challenge matches carried quite so much weight in the minds of GAA people as they have in the past few weeks.

Those as tired of Kerry's vice-grip on Munster as Dublin's on Leinster have been swapping stories in whispers about the exploits of the Cork footballers on the challenge-match circuit.

First, they beat Dublin - yes, Dublin - in a game in which Brian Hurley gave a good old-fashioned hosing to Rory O'Carroll.

Then they beat Roscommon, a feat which has attained even more significance since last Sunday, for obvious reasons.

For all that skittish talk, there is at last reasoned optimism in Cork that this Munster final won't be quite as grim as last year's.

Despite their struggles in the league, Cork kind of discovered themselves halfway through, abandoned the double sweeper they employed so confusingly, when they were a man up and leading, against Kildare and finished in reasonable shape.


Five of their players here haven't played in a Munster final before.

And only Paul Kerrigan and Mark Collins have been part of a Cork team that has beaten Kerry in championship football.

The loss of Tomás Clancy is a significant one.

Last year, Stephen Cronin was overpowered in his role as bouncer to the Cork defence by Seán O'Shea, whereas Clancy has a greater physical presence.

Much will depend on how his replacement, Seán White, goes at centre-back.

Similarly, Ian Maguire and Ruairí Deane must establish some force in the middle to prevent a situation transpiring like last year, when David Moran ate Cork in the middle of the park and Kerry generally devoured the Rebel's kick-outs.

The big issue for Cork is how they hold David Clifford, O'Shea, Paul Geaney and Stephen O'Brien.

Shy of starving them of possession, it will take a collective defensive effort of such monumental proportions not closely associated with Cork for some time.

For Peter Keane, James O'Donoghue's injury problems continue to frustrate. But for Dara Moynihan and Diarmuid O'Connor, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their peak summer credentials.

A decent start by Cork could see this clash still competitive at half-time. Anything else and they could be torn to shreds.



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