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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Killarney memories, Cork creating a new identity and Kerry's approach up front

Alan Quirke was a regular fixture in clashes in Fitzgerald Stadium.

IT WILL BE a familiar journey on Sunday but in an unfamiliar role.

Colm Cooper and Graham Canty Cork and Kerry teams parading before the 2011 Munster football final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Alan Quirke called time on his Cork football career in the winter of 2013 and sitting in the stands can still jar a little for the former goalkeeper.

He’s a regular observer at Cork’s home games and will point the car in the direction of Killarney on Sunday morning to support a squad that he has watched undergo a major transformation since he retired.

“It’s certainly unusual alright sitting in the stands and you’re looking at some of your former team-mates with other players under different managers and with different systems.

“It’s changed so much even in the few years since I retired in 2013. Some of the young lads coming through, I would never have played with. The team has evolved.

“I’d obviously always be rooting for Cork. It’s difficult looking on when the results haven’t been brilliant over the last few years.”

inpho_00620081 Former Cork goalkeeper Alan Quirke Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

A Munster encounter in Fitzgerald Stadium was always something Quirke eagerly anticipated.

“Personally I liked playing there. Even though we never won there, I only lost once there (2011) and drew three or four times.

“I do find that the pitch, it does play tight, much tighter than Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Croke Park.

“With the nature of the terracing as well it’s very close to the pitch. From a kickout point of view, I found it harder to find pockets of space.

“It’s a very atmospheric ground which is something players like. You always had a big crowd there and the matches were nearly always close when we played down there.

“It’s funny, two small things stand out for me. The crossbars down there are quite low compared to the crossbars in Croke Park. I think over the years apart from the 2015 game, you didn’t see a whole lot of goals scored down there.

“I might not have been caught by Michael Meehan from a 13 metre free if the game was played in Killarney!

Source: Cathal Doorey/YouTube

“The other thing is you could see the Kerry lads were very comfortable playing down there. They were very good at picking off long-range scores, the likes of Bryan Sheehan and Declan O’Sullivan, they were able to score almost at ease.

“It was natural for them at home, like it would be for Cork playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”

The choice of venue for this Munster final was in the spotlight since the semi-finals and the Fitzgerald Stadium setting will have a knock-on effect in Quirke’s view.

“The whole Páirc Uí Chaoimh thing has taken a bit of pressure off them as well. Kerry would have been really relishing the prospect of coming up and spoiling the party.

“In reality all the pressure is on Kerry because of the fact that they’re league champions, they’re going in as overwhelming favourites and they’re trying to preserve the 22-year unbeaten run in Killarney.

“From a Cork point of view, the pressure will come from within the group to demand a performance from themselves to try and progress things further again.

“I know they are putting in massive work on the training ground and they need to produce a performance now to reflect that.

“The majority of Cork supporters there on Sunday won’t have seen the team live for two years, since the replay in Killarney.

“They probably don’t have a close affinity with this group of players but if the players can show from throw-in that they’re really up for it, the crowd will get behind them which is very important as well.”

The teams parade before the game The Cork and Kerry teams before the 2011 Munster final Source: James Crombie

Harnessing the Cork support can be an effective tool. After the despair of the first-half display against Tipperary, Quirke noticed a clear shift in the mood in the finale of that game.

He feels it is connected to the desire for a Cork squad to establish themselves in a cycle of development.

“What caught my eye was – fair enough the first-half was poor – but with 30 minutes to go they were 0-6 to 0-1 down, playing against a very, very defensive team.

“They brought it back point by point and then when they got hit by the sucker punch of the goal, they still had the wherewithal to adapt to create the goal. That was very encouraging.

“I think the Cork supporters in the stadium, everyone was leaving with a bit of a spring in their step. Hopefully the players can feed off that.

“I think you had all the genuine Cork supporters there that day at the Tipperary match. When Cork upped their performance when they really had to, the crowd got behind them.

“There’s a lot of talk about leadership in the group. I think they’re trying to develop their own identity which can be hard.

“Paul (Kerrigan) is probably leading that as captain. On the day, I thought when they really needed people to stand up, a few people did.

“Paul was one of them, Shieldsy and James Loughrey really stood up as well, Ian Maguire and then Mark Collins came on to grab the game by scruff of the neck as well. Then Sean Powter and Michael Hurley came on who really went for it as well.”

Michael Shields celebrates his side scoring a goal immediately after conceding Michael Shields celebrates Cork's goal against Tipperary Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There was plenty focus after Kerry’s semi-final win over Clare how the attacking axis of James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney chipped in with a combined 0-13.

But there was another eye-catching stat about Kerry’s play from midfield up that day in Ennis – by half-time four players had been booked and Donncha Walsh was sent-off after a second yellow.

“I’ve been looking at the Kerry-Dublin matches closely the last few times they’ve played, and even the Kerry-Clare game, and it’s interesting to see how aggressive Kerry have got in their front eight,” says Quirke.

“I think Kerry have really come up with a mindset that we’re going to press high and really aggressively on the opposition kickout.

“They want to win possession and have an attacking platform with the opposition defence going backwards.

“Or else if they don’t win possession, they’re going to adopt a ‘thou shalt not pass’ attitude, where they’re going to tackle extremely aggressively, try to make a turnover or at worst, probably make a tactical foul.

“What Éamonn Fitzmaurice has done with this Kerry team, there’s a really strong work ethic throughout the team. They’re really playing for him. There’s not a single Kerry forward that isn’t prepared to graft and be substituted after 40 or 45 minutes, knowing they’ve put in massive shift.

“I honestly believe the Cork forward line will have to replicate that on Sunday. They have to work unbelievably hard to stop Kerry producing a platform for their forwards.

“They could take a note out of Down’s book there last weekend, how Down hassled and harried Monaghan at the weekend, they didn’t give them a second.”

Donnchadh Walsh Donnchadh Walsh was sent-off for Kerry against Clare Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Having stood between the posts for plenty seasons, kickout strategies naturally command Quirke’s attention. Since he departed, he has noticed a change sweeping through the inter-county landscape.

“It’s interesting the way football has evolved and how the kickout in particular has evolved. Just looking at Down-Monaghan, Kerry-Dublin or Kerry-Clare, teams are pressing up on the kickouts to force goalkeepers into kicking it long, which means the fear láidir has become more valuable again.

“Two or three years ago they were saying the likes of Nicholas (Murphy) or Darragh Ó Sé, we’d never see their type again. Now Alan O’Connor and David Moran are seen as two of the key players for Sunday because of their fielding ability.

“What it also is going to bring back into play is the ground battle for breaking ball. It used to be the middle eight, it’s probably now like the middle 18 because there’s so many players in that area.

“If you can manage to catch a clean kickout then, it’s a very strong weapon to have.”

Alan Quirke Cork football goalkeeper Alan Quirke Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In Quirke’s eyes, the opening passages of play on Sunday are critical. He’s witnessed enough matches in Killarney over the years where a sluggish start can prove fatal.

“The first 20 minutes in Killarney, that would be another recollection of mine, Kerry always try to come out of the blocks absolutely flying.

“There were a number of occasions over the years whereby we gave Kerry a six, seven, eight point lead in the first 30 minutes. It was almost impossible then to reel them back in.

“For Cork to succeed on Sunday, they’ll need to match Kerry’s aggression early on. Cork probably need to start their best team as well I feel.

“They can’t be banking on being still in the game with 20 minutes to go and bringing guys on. They need to really go for it and see where that takes them.

“It’s all about trying building a new identity for the team and that can be hard, particularly when results aren’t going great.

“They need to produce a performance now on Sunday to bring it on to the next level.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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