Nicholas Murphy

There is very little doubt that this Cork team is poised and ready to dominate Kerry for three or four years. Every quarter of a century or so, this has been the case. Cork footballers get to reap some reward for their massive levels of patience and tolerance. Kerry quietly say very little, but very quickly rebuild. We are once again at this point in the accepted relationship between two of Gaelic football's greatest counties. This Cork have the ability and the opportunity to win two, possibly three, All Ireland titles.

Quite possibly. All that remains to be noted by football historians is the exact date and place in which Cork's period of domination commenced. Was it June 2009? This afternoon we will find out whether that date must be officially noted, or discarded.

There is no great reason to doubt that Cork can continue on from their two all-conquering performances against Kerry at the beginning of this championship, and finish off this year by recording an unbelievable, unimaginable, victory over Kerry in an All-Ireland football final. Everything tells us that Cork can win, should win, will win.

But, hold our horses here one second, and let's skip back a sentence or two, okay? Did anyone notice that the word unbelievable and the word unimaginable were used back-to-back in the last paragraph?

To feel absolutely certain of victory, the great football and hurling teams, and the greatest individuals we have known in every sporting discipline, from Ali to Tiger to Usain, have been able to close their eyes and view their impending victory.

It's true, seeing is believing. And what exactly will the Cork footballers see if, two or three minutes before being called from their dressing-room, they are asked by Conor Counihan to sit back and relax, and take in some deep nourishing breaths of air, and close their eyes?

Truth is, no Cork footballer may wish to close his eyes. No Cork footballer, for the next few hours at least, feels he is in a position to as much as blink! And that's because nobody knows for sure what exactly is going to emerge from the opposite dressing-room – not me, not you, not Counihan, in fact not one Cork player.

Kerry might come out of that room and look the fairly sorry football team they have looked in six out of seven games this summer. Or they might go about their business as though the last three months have comprised no more than a hop, skip and jump towards a normal and most natural of championship endings.

With each passing day over the last week, more and more people deliberating over this All Ireland final have being arriving at the conclusion that Cork will never, ever, ever beat Kerry in an All Ireland final. The form of both teams over the last few months is being completely ignored. Anthony Lynch's regular-as-clockwork overpowering of Colm Cooper is being ignored. Graham Canty's powerful presence throughout the Cork defence is being ignored. The likelihood that Nicholas Murphy, Alan O'Connor and Pearse O'Neill, between them, can outplay and finally retire Darragh Ó Sé is being ignored.

The majority of people contemplating this game are coming to the conclusion that an All Ireland final is an All Ireland final, and the team with the greater confidence on the day, the team with nerves of steel, will win, simple as that. And, that team, on days like this, is never Cork.

On this occasion however, it is not as simple as that. Cork are stronger throughout the field. In almost all the big individual contests they are starting out with a natural advantage. They are also the form team. They are more confident than any Cork football team I have viewed in over 20 years. They are, in fact, a joy to watch. They play fast, attractive, aggressive and exciting football the length of the field. They have the best defence in the country. They have the best eight players in the middle third of the field, with an outstanding mix of strength and speed. They have three outstanding team leaders in Lynch, Canty and Murphy. And, lastly, they have the coolest, smartest, most sensible manager Cork have possibly ever had.

In my view we are going to have to see one incredible performance from Kerry if they are to win the 2009 All Ireland football title. I'm not ruling that out! Kerry can win. Kerry can defeat Cork and, at the same time, barely edge out Tyrone in the battle for the title of 'Team of the Decade'. And, if they do so, it will be down to one man. If Kerry take this title, then, whatever the players produce on the field, they will all still have to take second place to Jack O'Connor.

Nobody in the whole Kerry camp has shown as much courage or has stood taller or stronger than O'Connor over the last few months. He's made mistakes. The team he sent out to meet Cork at the start of this championship was misshapen and wholly inadequate for the task at hand. But from that low point, O'Connor has lifted this team up by its boot-straps and, even though performances have only been mediocre-to-good, he has marched his team through July and August and into this final. All through this championship campaign O'Connor has been the complete general – and now he has one final, massive battle in his sights.

As I have made clear in the past once or twice (or maybe 10 or 11 times if I'm being truthful), O'Connor led Kerry to two of the most wretched All Ireland final victories in living memory during his first term as Kerry boss. This view of mine has never rested easily with O'Connor or any Kerry football folk. The good people of The Kingdom choose denial when it comes to any real, decent inspection of the true worth of those victories.

O'Connor was a brave man in coming back to lead his county a second time. He has withstood injuries, indiscipline and some of the most inept performances we have ever witnessed from a Kerry team in all my adult years of watching and admiring them. So, how does he go about winning this game, which, no matter how it is won, will immediately go down as one of Kerry's most satisfying victories ever?

Will Kieran Donaghy, if he is thrown in midway through the first half, or late in the day, single-handedly make the difference between winning and losing? Hardly. Donaghy can help but the entire Cork camp will be prepared for him. O'Connor knows that he has a troubled defence of his own, and he will also be privately accepting that his team will do very well to split the share of possession in the middle third of the field. To be sure of winning, O'Connor needs to see his team physically dominating the Cork defence, running at them at every opportunity and pressurising them in a manner in which this Cork defence has not been pressurised all summer long.

This Cork defence does look supreme, and even though the injury to Ray Carey has produced some doubt about its make-up, it is hard to see how any single Kerry forward, with the possible exception of Colm Cooper, can get on top of his opposite number for a lengthy spell today. Michael Shields and Canty are both a perfect measure for Declan O'Sullivan and Tommy Walsh, whatever way the Kerry pair interchange, so the key to a breakthrough against Cork must surely rest with Cooper – and Cooper alone.

Anthony Lynch, admittedly, has always possessed the secret formula for keeping Cooper quiet. Lynch's tackling skills (and his balance while tackling) are the best in Gaelic football but he's also able to outfield Cooper. And, because he reads the game so brilliantly, Lynch can and will get out in front of Cooper and beat him to the ball every second time.

All of this is known to Cooper. So, what's he to do? Cooper, in truth, does not need to do anything different or additionally miraculous. He just needs to make certain that he raises his game up to a level we haven't seen from him in over three years.

At his very best there's no doubt about it, Cooper has the ability to overpower Lynch in perhaps the greatest and most defining individual contest the pair of them will ever experience. If Cooper does that, the entire Cork defence can become unhinged. And if the Cork defence is unhinged, and Donaghy is introduced and finds that little extra space around him, then one of the most memorable All Ireland final victories in modern times could be at hand.

This Kerry team has been playing football in a shallow grave all summer long. The destruction they visited upon Dublin in the quarter-final brought some life and hope to their dressing-room but, really, the semi-final against Meath proved for sure that the team is not in the healthiest or most confident of places.

Kerry are not dead and buried, not yet, but this team will have to rise to a massive height over if they are to win this All Ireland title. I can not see them doing that. Cork can win, should win, and will win, and on a perfect day they could do so by four or five points.