Match­ing the King­dom is the tar­get to reach

Irish Examiner - County - - Sport -

Kerry have won the last five — three of the fi­nals by 10 points or more — and it feels like an aw­ful long time since Cork have beaten their old ri­vals. Hon­estly, 2012 feels like a dif­fer­ent time al­to­gether.

Ea­monn Fitz­mau­rice has an eye on re­venge on Mayo af­ter last year’s non-per­for­mance in the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal, fo­cus has been on build­ing a team that can chal­lenge and ul­ti­mately de­feat Dublin and Mun­ster ex­ists mainly for Kerry as a path to that end goal, a test­ing ground for more real chal­lenges.

The su­per eight of the All-Ire­land foot­ball cham­pi­onship has sort of given an al­ter­na­tive goal for more or less ev­ery­one in the mid-tier coun­ties as well, where teams with no real hope of win­ning an All-Ire­land and who pre­vi­ously had only vague ideas about what round would be a re­al­is­tic aim, have been tend­ing to set the quar­ter-fi­nal group stage as some­thing that’s at­tain­able and worth­while. Though clearly, many are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed, much as ev­ery­one thinks they’re ca­pable.

Cork would take a last eight out­come for year one of the Ro­nan McCarthy era, a flat and very clear sort of mea­sure­ment on the suc­cess of a year, where not reach­ing that stage is clearly less than sat­is­fac­tory, and where reach­ing that sec­tion of the tour­na­ment im­me­di­ately lends a sense of progress.

Clare and Tipp would both have got­ten there the year be­fore last and might think it’s pos­si­ble again.

Re­cent his­tory then might sug­gest a closed cham­pi­onship and yet there’s some­thing in the idea that there’s an open­ness de­vel­op­ing in Mun­ster, away from the ti­tle win­ners es­pe­cially.

Tipp and Cork have been only a score apart in the last two cham­pi­onships and the league game this year re­flected quite ac­cu­rately the dif­fer­ent stages of de­vel­op­ment of the two. Clare have beaten Cork in the last two league cam­paigns. Water­ford were what, maybe 10 min­utes and a bit of experience/qual­ity from tak­ing Cork out in Dun­gar­van last year.

Lim­er­ick haven’t quite re­cov­ered mo­men­tum from the end of the John Galvin era, but wouldn’t be fright­ened of any­body out­side Kerry. Cork’s place as top of the chas­ing park is as vul­ner­a­ble as it’s been for some time and that means there are games and po­ten­tial wins/ losses that will have mean­ing here.

Kerry won’t have a suc­cess­ful year by just win­ning Mun­ster, but a de­feat at any stage along the way in the prov­ince would prob­a­bly call an end to more am­bi­tious out­ings down the road for this year.

There is a to-do list for Mun­ster then. Tipp will tar­get beat­ing Cork again as a real state­ment, to show that two years ago wasn’t a once-off and to prop­erly re­flect a power shift in their di­rec­tion — any gap in qual­ity in the league opener down the Páirc prob­a­bly leaned to­wards Liam Kearns’ team.

The likes of Michael Quin­li­van, Conor Sweeney, Steven O’Brien, Rob­bie Kiely, have been around for a few years now and there will be a gen­uine tar­get of win­ning big games and putting to­gether an­other se­ri­ous run; it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how they deal with that ex­pec­ta­tion of per­for­mances and re­sults.

Clare will be think­ing of an op­ti­mum mo­ment for a shock at a stage of de­vel­op­ment where pur­pose and clear im­prove­ments have been made in Colm Collins’ time, where key play­ers are at peak form and they’ll want to make the most of mo­men­tum and be­lief be­hind this cur­rent set-up.

Again, they didn’t look out of place in beat­ing Cork in this year’s league, with no rea­son­ing or ex­cuses for that re­sult be­yond Clare be­ing a more con­trolled, more bal­anced and more con­sis­tent team right now.

It’s hard to imag­ine Clare hav­ing enough big wins in them to make it through a su­per eight, but if they are to have one state­ment per­for­mance in them it’s a pos­si­bil­ity to come in Mun­ster against a Kerry team that’s not set­tled or sure of it­self yet.

We’ll look at Cork in more de­tail, but the tar­get in Mun­ster will be pretty ba­sic: win the first game. It’s hard to see Cork be­ing able to re­cover from a loss to Tipp (or Water­ford) to make any­thing of the year af­ter­wards; the Mun­ster opener is that defin­ing right now for Ro­nan McCarthy’s sea­son to es­tab­lish a base for the sum­mer.

So, not ex­actly pri­or­ity, yet vi­tal for al­most every county in dif­fer­ent ways. Mun­ster foot­ball has never been com­pletely box of­fice. Can you re­ally re­call a clas­sic Mun­ster foot­ball cam­paign in the same way you could a Mun­ster hurl­ing or Ul­ster foot­ball year?

And still it’ll make or break at least two of the main four coun­ties’ sea­sons. Think of the FA Cup, where we con­stantly get told how rub­bish and out­dated it is yet read and see each year the im­por­tance of one great day win­ning a tro­phy and how much that means to the in­di­vid­ual play­ers.

A Kerry cruise to six in a row would be the least in­ter­est­ing out­come. A Cork emer­gence through a con­fi­dent win over Tipp and a rock­ing Páirc for a Mun­ster fi­nal could catch the imag­i­na­tion.

A Mun­ster fi­nal for Tipp would prob­a­bly be more of an ex­pec­ta­tion for them than a break­through at this stage. A Mun­ster fi­nal for Clare would be a game-changer ob­vi­ously.

We’ll cer­tainly have a bet­ter idea of where each county is by the end of June.

James O’Donoghue of Kerry in ac­tion against Martin McMahon, right and Ciaran Rus­sell of Clare, dur­ing the Mun­ster semi-fi­nal at Cusack Park.

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