We’ve successfully negotiated our way through the qualifiers, encountering and overcoming far tougher opposition on the way than we had to do on previous backdoor runs. Our 2019 Championship odyssey now shifts back from straight knockout to three guaranteed outings over the next four weeks in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final group stage, aka the Super 8s.
Our first opponents in Group 1 are, of course, Kerry this coming Sunday. The tweak given to the Championship schedule this year means that provincial champions have home advantage in the first round – Phase 1 in the vernacular – which means we’re off to Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney on Sunday to take on the Kingdom in a match that throws in that afternoon at 4pm.
For all of our matches this summer I’ve given a summary of the opposition and what they’ve been up to over the past year. Because we’ve already played Kerry twice this year, however, there’s no need to cover the same back story again. Instead, all I need to do is point you towards the piece I did on Kerry before we met them in the League down in Tralee (that one is here) and the one I did ahead of the Division One final (here).
Since then, of course, we beat them in that League decider at the end of March. That day wasn’t just noteworthy for the fact that we finally managed to win a national final at Croke Park it was also the first ever time we’d beaten Kerry in such a decider. It also extended our unbeaten run over them in matches played at HQ to five.
Once our spring frolics were over we went our separate ways in the Championship. While we were forced to tramp the highways and byways of the qualifiers to get to the Super 8s they went the direct route. It’s fair to say that they didn’t really cut any kind of dash in doing so but they won Munster (again), which would have been their sole aim for this part of the summer campaign.
Their Munster semi-final opponents were Clare, who yesterday missed out on Super 8 qualification by the narrowest of margins. Meath, who edged them out, have, of course, joined Kerry, Donegal and ourselves in Group 1. Colm Collins’ team endured a torrid opening half against the Kingdom in that Munster semi-final, going in 1-9 to 0-3 in arrears. They battled hard after the break, though, closing the gap to six points at the finish, as Kerry won by 1-15 to 0-12.
Cork, seemingly rejuvenated this summer after suffering relegation to Division Three in the spring, had a right cut off Kerry in the Munster final two weeks ago. In a free-scoring encounter, Cork repeatedly carved open their opponents’ backline, plundering three goals in the process. Kerry, reduced to fourteen men for the final quarter when Paul Geaney was dismissed, were relieved to emerge from Páirc Uí Chaoimh with a 1-19 to 3-10 win.
Much of Kerry’s defensive travails right now are being linked to the loss through injury of the combative Peter Crowley who did his cruciate in a club game at the start of May. The 28-year old Laune Rangers clubman was a vital part of their defence and they looked more than a bit rickety in that sector without him in the Munster final. Mind you, I’d say they’re happy enough in the knowledge that the marauding Mattie Ruane isn’t an option for us either next Sunday.
This match is set to be a bit of a strange one for us. Having survived three do-or-die qualifier ties in successive weeks, this one – while hugely important – won’t either get us into the All-Ireland semi-final or see us knocked out of the Championship, regardless of how well or how badly it goes for us. Kerry are at an advantage in having taken part in the Super 8s last year – and have the scars to prove it – so they’re likely to have a better feel for this game and what it means in the overall scheme of things.
That said, as was pointed out on The Sunday Game last night, Kerry will be under enormous pressure to get the win on Sunday because, if they don’t, the following Sunday’s clash with Donegal will eliminate them if that one goes awry for them too. Providing we beat Meath – something we haven’t, mind you, done in the Championship since 1951 – then we’ll most likely still be in the hunt going into our Phase 3 meeting with Donegal regardless of how we fare in Killarney.
Strip it all back, though, and you come to the rather obvious conclusion that this is a match both teams will want to win. A draw is a possible outcome too, maybe even a likely one, given it’s a round-robin fixture. Kerry are warm 8/15 favourites with the bookies, but the handicap is just two points.
What do you reckon – how will this historic first-ever Championship meeting in Killarney between ourselves and Kerry go? Let’s end with a poll on that.
How will we do against Kerry?
- Win (67%, 836 Votes)
- Lose (20%, 256 Votes)
- Draw (13%, 162 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,254