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OFF CENTRE CIRCLE: Can Cork end Kerry’s unbeaten home run?

July 24th, 2021 12:00 PM

By Ger McCarthy

Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney has become a fortress for Kerry football teams in recent times. (Photo: Tom Russell)

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THE Cork senior footballers head into the lion’s den of Killarney this Sunday hoping to end a 26-year hoodoo.

Fitzgerald Stadium has become a fortress for the Kingdom senior football teams. Since 1995, when Cork eked out a famous Munster final win, Kerry have not lost a single provincial or All-Ireland championship football fixture at the stadium in the heart of Killarney town. Think about that for a second. That’s an unbeaten streak that has stretched to 36 games. A quarter of a century of playing the likes of Cork (13 times in this spell), Mayo, Kildare, and Tyrone at home. One by one, the Kingdom has seen them off.

But as commanding as Kerry has been, there have been plenty of scares along the way too.

In 2002, Cork held their arch rivals to a 0-8 apiece Munster semi-final draw in front of over 30,000 supporters at a jam-packed Killarney. The Rebels took the bragging rights in the replay at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, winning 0-15 to 1-9, but Kerry would have the last laugh, hammering Cork 3-19 to 2-7 in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

Fast forward to 2009 and another Munster semi-final draw in Killarney and replay at the Páirc that once again went Cork’s way. We’ll never forget 2015 when Kerry, then All-Ireland champions, were haunted to draw, 2-15 to 3-12, thanks to a last-gasp Fionn Fitzgerald equaliser. That one still hurts. Not since that Cork team of 1995 have Kerry footballers lost a home championship game – but records are there to be broken, right?

Granted, Cork manager Ronan McCarthy and players are unlikely to pay much heed or spend time dwelling on those facts. This new generation of Cork footballers are eager to create their own piece of history and what better setting than the venue where so many Cork teams of the recent past have perished.

The reality is that few, if any, pundits give Cork a chance in this Sunday’s latest trip across the border. Yet it is worth remembering hardly anybody fancied Cork to defeat the Kingdom in last year’s rain-sodden clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh either. We all remember how that finished.

Taking recent league and Munster championship form as a guide, Kerry are clear favourites to win but that will suit Cork just fine. There has been plenty of chatter about Kerry needing to atone for last year’s loss on Leeside and all that will do is add pressure to not just beat Cork but also put up a score.

Peter Keane’s side were efficient rather than spectacular in their 1-18 to 1-9 defeat of Munster champions Tipperary last time out, but any side with Sean O’Shea, David Clifford, Stephen O’Brien and David Moran amongst their ranks deserves respect. On paper, this is Kerry’s Munster final to lose and, again, that’s based on more recent performances and scores rather than the historical significance of playing in Killarney.

Cork football experienced another welcome boost when Keith Ricken’s U20s edged Kerry by a point following cracking encounter at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last week. Add to that, Cork’s injury problems look to have lightened at the right time so there are options to call on for the biggest game of the year. Such is the competitiveness within the current Rebel senior football camp that Clonakilty’s Sean White missed out on being selected for the 26-man match-day panel against Limerick even though the Clonakilty player featured in all four 2021 league games.

It has been too long since Cork last tasted Munster championship victory at Fitzgerald Stadium. The Rebels will travel in hope of a major upset and the ending of a 26-year hoodoo. The odds are against them, but they were last year, too.

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