BOBBIE O’Dwyer knew the question was coming. He’s been asked it numerous times since he took over as Cork minor football manager in August 2017.
How important is it to beat Kerry and buck the recent trend of losing to the Kingdom?
The Urhan man was never going the give a sensational answer that would make the headlines. Instead, he played it down, preferring to put the emphasis on a Cork performance more so than gunning for Kerry’s scalp in their Munster MFC opener on Tuesday at Páirc Uí Rinn.
‘That’s a normal question that’s going to be asked, all things considered,’ Dwyer says.
‘Our objective is to have the boys playing as well as they possibly can and it just so happens the first team we play is Kerry. We will take them on and see what happens.
‘Success is always welcome. We are looking for a performance and looking to develop players. Our job is to have them as ready as they can be.’
Cork haven’t beaten Kerry at minor football level since 2013 – and even then Kerry regrouped to win the Munster title. They’ve won the last six provincial championships and the last five All-Ireland minor titles, dominating at both Munster and national level. Kerry haven’t lost a minor football game since Cork beat them in that quarter-final replay in April 2013.
That’s not to say either that Cork have been whipping boys for the next-door neighbours. Because they haven’t.
In 2014 Cork lost the Munster minor final by four points, 2-17 to 2-13. A year later Cork lost by a single point, 0-16 to 1-12, after extra time in a semi-final in Tralee. In 2016 Kerry beat Cork by six points, 3-14 to 3-8, in the provincial final in Killarney. Fair enough, 2017 wasn’t great as Cork lost a semi-final to Kerry by 2-17 to 1-10, but last year was agonisingly close with Kerry winning with an injury-time point in a Munster semi-final in Tralee.
Cork have been closer to Kerry than any other team in Munster in this period and the revamped provincial structure means that the young Rebels will have two games in phase two where both Cork and Kerry will be joined by the winner of the phase one final between Clare and Tipperary.
Clare, Tipp, Waterford and Limerick have all been involved in a round-robin phase one and all played three games. In phase two Cork, Kerry and either Clare or Tipperary will play each other once with the top two going into the Munster final.
‘I’d prefer a full round-robin so that everyone is getting four or five games and have it similar to the hurling but what’s there is there and we are looking forward to going out and playing in it,’ O’Dwyer said.
‘There is a second chance now which is a positive. It gives a team who doesn’t win on the first day an opportunity to get it right for the next day.’
If Cork get to the Munster final it will also guarantee an All-Ireland quarter-final spot so there’s a good chance they could get four games, at least, this year.
That’s important as O’Dwyer explains.
‘Football is very competitive at underage level in Cork and it’s a case of getting a run going. I think the key to success is the longer you play in the summer the more opportunity you have to develop the team and give everyone a chance,’ the Cork minor boss said.
‘There is very little between Cork and Kerry at this level. Kerry have had a wonderful time the last five years and it’s our job to now to ensure our fellas are in the best shape possible to do themselves justice.’
There’s a strong West Cork element to the current county minors. Ibane Gaels’ Jack Lawton and Ryan O’Donovan, Gabriel Rangers’ James O’Regan and Keith O’Driscoll, Jack Cahalane and Sean Bohane from Castlehaven, Joseph O’Shea of Urhan, Glengarriff’s Denis Collins, Clonakilty’s Dan Pete and Carbery Rangers’ Kealan Scannell and Barry Kerr are all involved, as is Adam Walsh-Murphy from Valley Rovers.
Castlehaven’s James McCarthy, Oliver O’Sullivan (Garnish) and Micheál Hannon (Mayfield) all remain on the backroom team while Nemo’s James Masters has joined the coaching set-up.
Incidentally, Masters was captain of the last Cork minor football team to win an All-Ireland back in 2000.
O’Dwyer is not looking past the game with Kerry.
‘Our sole objective is Kerry. Depending on the outcome we will be out the following week or the week after that, but we are not evening thinking that far ahead,’ said the Beara man who worked as a branch manager at AIB Killarney for six years before retiring at the end of last year.