Should Kerry happen to win Sunday’s All Ireland football final against Cork, manager Jack O’Connor will understandably take considerable delight in their success.
After all, the Leesiders thwarted Kerry’s bid to win the Munster title this year and have shown much more impressive form in the All Ireland series to date than their neighbours.
However, the satisfaction which O’Connor may yet derive from a job well done this weekend will surely fall well short of the euphoria he would experience if the Kingdom were to meet and overcome Tyrone in an All Ireland final — something they have never done under his command.
Now in his second term in charge, Tyrone have proved Kerry’s nemesis while O’Connor has been at the helm, continually thwarting them when the stakes were at their highest.
For all that, O’Connor will nonetheless settle for victory on Sunday to vindicate his return to the manager’s role in the first place.
“Cork are a serious team this year. They have shown themselves to be superbly fit, very athletic and physically powerful — that’s a strong fusion of talents in anyone’ language,” maintains O’Connor.
Kerry, in contrast, laboured through the All Ireland Qualifiers after surrendering to Cork in the Munster semi-final and only unveiled their full range of skills when they destroyed upbeat Dublin in the quarter-finals before taking Meath in the last four when they were efficient rather than stylish.
Yet Kerry’s enviable pedigree in All Ireland finals, notwithstanding those chastening reversals at the hands of Tyrone, suggests that they will blossom again. They have clearly rediscovered their hunger, the perceived ‘lesser lights’ in their team like Mike McCarthy, Darren O’Sullivan and Killian Young have stepped up smartly to the mark and the considerable incentive of striving to avenge their Munster semi-final defeat by Cork will all combine to make the Kingdom a much different proposition than they have been to date — that spectacular outing against Dublin excepted, of course.
Cork, for their part, will parade their ferocious work ethic, blistering pace and unremitting physicality to bear on their opponents. With Alan O’Connor having been red-carded against Tyrone, the Leesiders know they must avoid incurring cards of any hue today if they are to end their 19-year title famine and with ebullient characters like Noel O’Leary, John Miskella, Graham Canty, Pearse O’Neill and Ray Carey in their line-up that could be difficult.
However, the lightning thrusts of Paul Kerrigan, the ball-winning ability of Nicholas Murphy at midfield, the finishing of Donnacha O’Connor and the energy of Pearse O’Neill may well sustain their challenge for the greater part of the match — but it’s hard to overlook Kerry’s stunning track record in All Ireland finals.