Rebels rip away Kerrys aura as new era beckons
I WAS just five years old when Cork, and emphatically so, delivered a crushing knock-out blow to the game's greatest ever football teams, suffice to say I don't remember much.
The year was 1987. The venue was Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney. The occasion was a replay of the Munster senior football championship (SFC) semi-final, a game Cork won, and with a bit to spare, 0-13 to 1-5.
That day, generally, is regarded as the day the music died for Mick O'Dwyer's Golden Years Kerry team, while it also ushered in an era of Cork dominance with two All-Ireland titles following soon after.
The similarities between then and now are there for all to see.
Last Sunday Cork were full value for their 0-17 to 0-12 victory over Kerry in the Munster SFC semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. But it wasn't just the result that caught the eye, it was the manner of the win and the body language of both teams.
In the grand scheme of things, Sunday's game revealed more about Kerry than it did about Cork, with the fallout surrounding the expected demise of this Kerry side, more so than praising Conor Counihan's charges. He won't mind that, he knows there is a lot of work to do in the weeks ahead.
But this win is the ideal platform from which to launch a serious All-Ireland assault.
What questions were asked of Cork on Sunday, they answered. It's just that the test wasn't as severe and searching as is usually the case, though that's not Cork's fault. They did what they had to do, playing within themselves, as you always felt that they had more to give, if needed.
Every time Kerry huffed, puffed and threatened, Cork stood strong, showing an admirable composure and calmness that has, in the past, been lacking. But the experience this team now has is starting to show. They controlled the game and its pace for long stretches, evident in the last 10 minutes when they closed the match out in style.
To kick 0-17 against any opposition in the championship, not to mind Kerry, always gives you a great chance of winning, and the accuracy, invention and clinical edge that Cork showed is encouraging.
Almost spoilt for choice up front, Donncha O'Connor, Paul Kerrigan, Colm O'Neill, Daniel Goulding, Ciarán Sheehan and Paddy Kelly can still play better than they did against Kerry. That's a shuddering thought for opposition defences. There is more to come. And that's also the case with Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh at midfield.
Again, that's a good place to be in, with plenty to work on ahead of the Munster final against Clare next month that is Cork's to lose. But it's very hard to see that happening.
The only concern, however, is that between now and the All-Ireland quarter-finals in August, Cork will only have one competitive game - a match that they could win at 80 per cent, with the greatest respect to Clare - while some counties will have built up a juggernaut of momentum after storming through the qualifiers.
Again, Cork won't be overly worried. They didn't need to dust down the sat-navs and head off on the scenic route this year. In the past, it helped Cork. Not now, not when they have amassed such a talented squad with a fierce competition for places. The front door is the way to go.
But will they cross roads with Kerry later in the summer? That's the big question.
There is no doubt that this Cork team wants to - and almost needs to - beat the Kingdom in Croke Park to raise their credibility even further. But almost like Kerry never got the chance to avenge defeats to Tyrone, the same could happen here, if Kerry don't rediscover themselves in the qualifiers.
It's inevitable that every empire will one day fall, and maybe that's what we saw in Páirc Úi Chaoimh last Sunday, as their invincibility and aura was ripped asunder by a Cork team that now realise that they have no reason to fear Kerry any more.
This is not the Kerry team of a few years ago. Gone are Darragh Ó Sé, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly, Tom O'Sullivan, Diarmuid Murphy, Tommy Griffin and so on, while Kieran Donaghy, Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin and Declan O'Sullivan are all struggling for form right now.
Add to that the Kerry defence is not what it once was, and it's easy to see why Cork supporters have an extra spring in their steps. This is a changing of the guard, as one era ends, another begins. And Cork must take this chance.
After years of coming off second best when it mattered, Cork now have the belief that they are good enough to beat Kerry, and you can't underestimate the psychological impact that has.
The young players on the Cork team, the likes of Ciarán Sheehan and Aidan Walsh to name two, had grown up watching Cork teams lose to the strong Kerry team of the noughties. And that, whatever people say, must have had an impact at some level.
But now Kerry hold no fear for these players, they know they can beat them. And that's a massive boost to have, to know in your mind that you are good enough to beat one of the best teams in the country.
It's onwards and upwards from here for Cork, and along with Dublin they look like the best two teams in the championship right now. And a lot of work awaits Cork before they get to where they want to be. But the signs are encouraging.
So 25 years on from when Cork last dealt a crushing blow to a great Kerry team, perhaps in years to come we will look back on the '12 Munster semi-final as a day when Cork repeated history. Or maybe not, because we know by now not to write this Kerry team off.
Perhaps the real chance to finish Kerry off will present itself later in the year, under the shadows of the Cusack Stand in Croke Park, and maybe then will we have another defining moment in this great rivalry.
And this time the chances are that I will remember it.
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