September 11, 2007
Kerry are the tipster's choice - Those of you out there concerned with the strike rate of the poor beleaguered pundit might be aware I am going through a particular bad run of predictions just now. Consistently calling the loser in any sort of a tightish two horse race. It is doing little for my confidence and the forensic approach has been suspended for the month of September. It has paid off handsomely already. Not one to boast, don't you know, but I am 100% spot on for the month to date. Readers will recall I bucked the trend and went for Kilkenny to win the hurling final. They duly obliged, stunning a watching public with a devastating performance in a shock win over Limerick. We are on a roll - there can be little doubt about that and the role your gut instinct plays in this crystal gazing gig cannot be overstated. A few weeks back I failed to call a single winner in a long list of club championship winners. I looked at the form, the injuries, the history, the star players, and the proven championship performers. And then picked the losers! The season is closing in and the floodlights are needed to complete the pre final training sessions. Has the summer passed so quickly? Or perhaps we did not have one at all. Back last May when all the counties headed into championship mode, there were goals and expectations, hopes and dreams. Even if you fell at first fence the old back door would get you kick started for the long run. Funny to recall the fancied teams back then: Donegal had won the league and were the fancy of many to win Sam; Mayo lost the league final but under John O'Mahony (soon to be a TD) it looked like anything was possible with this man; the Dubs had their followers also and you just could not exclude Tyrone or Armagh-the auld dogs for the hard road and all that. The pundits on the Sunday Game headed for the studios and Pat Spillane, in the manner of a persistent dentist extracting a well bedded but bad tooth, kept after us until he got our predictions out in public. It's amazing to state that not a single one of us went for Kerry (reigning champions and perennial winners) or their great rivals Cork (who had shown form in 2006 and surely had improvement in them). Oh no - we don't do the blindingly obvious and so had to sit back and observe the demise of first Armagh and as the weeks flew by, Mayo, Laois, Tyrone and Galway joined them. New counties emerged and perhaps Monaghan will be the team most encouraged in that category although Sligo will be the story of 2007 when the lesser lights are discussed. An honourable mention for Derry too. I went for Dublin from the off but my own favourites fell by a point, yet again. At the semi-final stage, yet again. But we had great fun following their electric season. Yet, when September comes, you pretty always end up with the two best teams in the country in the final and 2007 is no different in that respect. I reckon Kerry and Cork have met in competitive action on seven occasions in the past 18 months - twice in the league, three times in the championship of 2006 and on September 16th they will meet for a second time in this years championship. No team has dominated the fixture but Kerry have won more silverware. It is a game of historical significance and when you sit down to think about the battle ahead, a tantalising and delicious thought presents. We know both sides will bring their provincial rivalry to the day and of course the unique colour and atmosphere of a Munster final. Kerry occupies the box seat in the build up and that is not a problem of any significance to them. They are well used to handling the added pressure of the favourites tag. Consider their places at the top table and wonder why the following might happen: despite Kerry's storied brilliance in Munster (near total dominance of the province for over a century and generally by beating Cork) and their number one position on the grid for All-Ireland wins, what if their greatest rivals, Cork and Billy Morgan, toppled them on this day of days? For any self-respecting Kerry man it would be a very dark place indeed, one likely to be occupied for a very long time. So, who will win? Mr. Spillane has been advocating the KISS approach to the decision making process recently: 'Keep It Simple, Stupid'. And I will. The Kingdom are going for two-in-a-row and the chance for a few of their players to enter the pantheon of really great players. It is serious motivation. They face Cork and so will not need to be aroused in the dressing room. Kerry has a pretty good defence (Cork have as slightly better one), a more than decent midfield (again, Cork have a better one, except this time slightly does not apply); but up front the Green and Gold skate home. They can call on Gooch, Declan O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy (we will see him out the field for sure) and throw in Brosnan, Sheehan and Galvin. Sorry folks, just too much artillery - in fact, three of them could have an off day and they would still win. It has all the ingredients of a thriller - two teams coming from the heartlands of Munster, each with an almost in-bred rivalry for the other. Both totally convinced they could carry the day and carve their name as champions of All-Ireland senior football. Kerry are the only unbeaten team in the championship and similar to Kilkenny in the hurling, they demonstrated once again that there is nothing like winning matches to keep the squad happy. There you have it then - my final call on 2007. Be aware I only hit the 60% success mark from provincial championships forward. I suspect the great majority of the clairvoyants did no better… Dave Coldrick from Meath gets the big call up for his first final as an All-Ireland referee and what a smashing honour it is. The standard this year is high in an overall sense and we wish him well on his big day. We said it many times before ands it is worth repeating again as it applies in every major final: a few breaks here, a couple of bounces there, or maybe plain bad luck will probably decide the encounter. But I expect Kerry to win most of those breaks and bounces.

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