It’s the Championship but not as we know it.
This afternoon in Killarney we take on Kerry in Phase 1 of the All-Ireland quarter-final. This Group 1 fixture – our first ever Super 8s match – throws in at Fitzgerald Stadium at 4pm this afternoon, with Tyrone ref Seán Hurson the man in charge.
To say this clash in an eagerly-awaited one is a bit of an understatement. The inaugural Super 8s last year didn’t exactly set the pulses racing and yesterday’s opening ties in the other group were no more than good in spots. This format needs a classic encounter between two big guns and today’s sell-out match in Killarney at the very least offers that possibility.
From our perspective, though, it’s not the health of the current Championship structure that will be of concern to us. Instead, it’s the opportunity to land a severe blow on Kerry, one that would, if we win, badly dent their hopes of further progression this summer.
It’s a big ask. Kerry are unbeaten at the venue since way back in 1995 and although it’s only Cork who have provided any kind of opposition there to them down the years there have been plenty of good Cork sides over the last twenty-odd years as well as a few not-so-hectic Kerry ones. That unbeaten record, then, isn’t one to be sniffed at.
It’s also our first ever Championship appearance in Fitzgerald Stadium, the first time ever that we’ve taken on Kerry at their home place in the Championship. And, of course, it’s our first ever match in the Super 8s, while Kerry got to take part in it – and have the scars to prove this – last year.
So we’ll be doing well, I reckon, to get a result from this game today. While a defeat would be a setback for us, it wouldn’t be a fatal one as we could still advance with victories over Meath and Donegal. It would, though, ramp up the pressure on us ahead of those two games and it would almost certainly send us into the path of Dublin in the semi-final.
For these reasons – allied to the delicious opportunity of besting Kerry for a third time this year – a win today is well worth going for with everything we have in our locker. And, as the last few weeks have shown, we’ve got quite a few positive elements about us this year to make Kerry ever so slightly worried heading into this one.
First, we’ve a vastly more experienced outfit. While, on the downside, this means more miles on the clock it also ensures that, when the battle is raging this afternoon, our lads are well used to this environment and know how to handle themselves in such a game. Can the same be said of Kerry’s talented young team?
It’s also the case that there’s much to like about how we’re playing this summer, a point that was particularly evident against Galway last weekend. Increasingly, there’s great energy and purpose to how we’re moving and, week by week, you can see that the quality of our play is inching ever higher. Will we see another jump in performance today? And, if so, how will that impact the battle that’s going to be played out?
I’m not going to speculate on how this one might go later today. But what I will predict is that we’ll see another strong, positive display from the lads, one that will see this team blossom still further. If that’s what we do get, then we won’t be far away.
Right, let’s get to it – it’s time to put the super into these Super 8s. Safe travelling all and get ready to lose those voices all over again later on today. Up Mayo.