IN the middle of last week, we were informed that Graham Canty was in danger of missing this afternoon's Munster semi-final in Killarney, against All Ireland champions Kerry, because of an acromioclavicular joint separation, or AC separation, of the shoulder. The Cork captain received 'the bang' in the first-half of the final round of games in the NFL, against Mayo, and actually left the field within half an hour. He had already missed the six earlier games in the league because of a hamstring injury. Who's counting for Graham?
Every second game in which Graham Canty plays for Cork he ends up in some sort of trouble, it seems, and while we are told that he will be starting at full-back in this annual dress rehearsal before 'the real thing' later in the season we all know in our hearts that Canty is half-crocked. And if the likes of Graham Canty are half-f**ked, then the entire Cork football team might feel the same. This may seem dramatic but, believe me, it is no such thing. Canty is on the way out. He's taking his time and fighting to win that one elusive All Ireland medal, but it's pretty much all over for him.
The history of Gaelic football in Cork, since I was a boy at any rate, is that the county is unreasonably short of men with guts, balls, hard-lined stomachs, and other such bits and pieces of the anatomy. Graham Canty, I must stress very quickly, possesses all of the above. He is, as the magnificent former Waterford football manager John 'Jackson' Kiely would so earnestly term it, a 'warrior'.
The 'warriors' who have played Gaelic football for Cork over the last 30 or 40 years could be counted out on the fingers of two hands. And, of course, you know what I am going to say next. Two of these warriors in the dim and distant past were Larry Tompkins and Shay Fahy, who were not even Corkmen to begin with. All of these years later, over two decades since Meath and Cork got to grips with one another in three All Ireland finals over a four years period, and with the middle-aged lads from both teams now playing golf together and buying one another drinks, it is not politically correct to say that the Meath dressing-room has always considered the Cork dressing-room to be housing more than a reasonable share of wimps and softies. This remains the case to this day. I've always believed the Kerry dressing-room holds a similar belief, and feeds on that belief when it matters most on the biggest days. We could be wrong. Then again, we could be dead right, and the reason why Cork football teams have demonstrably failed to sustain any reasonable levels of bravery and self-belief against Kerry in Cork Park in the last half a dozen years, and have spectacularly caved in between a quarter and half way through some of these games, could be because they have not had the required number of 'warriors' on their starting 15.
Kerry footballers, the present-day variety, or the pot-bellied variety from decades past, would no doubt disappear under the nearest table at this discussion but, they know. Oh, do they know.
But, enough history. Cork's big problem this year, as it was last year or any year over the last decade, is that they do not have enough footballers with the stuff of Graham Canty, and neither do they have a full-forward line capable of cancelling out or outscoring the opposing full-forward line, in the biggest of games, on the greatest of Sunday afternoons.
And that is a gigantic problem. Especially so at the beginning of another championship campaign in which Cork are being labelled, by popular opinion, as the team to beat by whoever genuinely wishes to be crowned All Ireland champs in 2010. Their manager Conor Counihan (left) was a warrior. A modestly talented footballer, but a warrior nevertheless, and therefore he, as much as anyone in the whole county, must be looking round his dressing-room and acknowledging the magnificent variety of talent amongst forwards and backs - and also huge specimens of midfielders - but wondering still on the exact number of warriors?
Cork can win this afternoon. Sure they can, and there is no reason to suspect, for starters, that Canty can not neutralise Kieran Donaghy for a greater portion of this contest. If Canty can last 70 minutes and a little longer. Even with Canty slightly 'iffy', and with no Anthony Lynch, and with Eoin Cadogan on the bench, Cork still have the ability to handle a Kerry forward division which looks exceptionally bare without the nuclear presence of Paul Galvin. Put bluntly, 50 per cent of the Kerry forwards named for this game (namely Darren O'Sullivan, Donnacha Walsh and Bryan Sheehan) have not proven themselves to be of the required standard of the average All Ireland winning Kerry forward.
Cork's defence can dominate. And Cork's midfield pairing can dominate – there is no earthly way in which Seamus Scanlon and Michael Quirke can carry Kerry the whole way to All Ireland glory. Despite Scanlon's supreme performance in last year's All Ireland final victory over Cork, when he surely played at 200 per cent potential, this Kerry midfield pairing is ordinary and laboured.
With Pearse O'Neill named in the half-forward line, Cork have three excellent ball-winners in the middle third of the field, and all three men also possess exceptional athleticism. They all add to the attack potential of the Cork team. But they do not necessarily have the defensive skills or instinct to help out back at the ranch when the pressure is poured onto their own full-back line.
Like in years just gone by, the essential difference between this Cork team and this Kerry team will be proven by the instinctive predatory nature of the individuals within each forward division. Here, Kerry have two 'A' listed celebrity scoring forwards, in the form of Declan O'Sullivan and Colm Cooper. And then there's Donaghy who scored just one solitary point against Tipperary last month, in Kerry's opening game of the summer, but directly orchestrated two goals and six points for others. And here, Cork have nobody in the 'A' category.
Calling a spade a spade, Cork's Donncha O'Connor, Daniel Goulding and Paul Kerrigan are all of the 'B' variety, and their lack of composure and their lack of confidence, in addition to their pained expressions of self-doubt on Sunday afternoons late in the championship season, do not lie. In Fitzgerald Stadium this afternoon they will find themselves in an arena which is red hot and made for rich gladiatorial occasions such as this one. Funnily enough, the Cork forwards know it, and like it there. They know it to be a place where you live, or die quickly, as a footballer. It's also a place where every Cork footballer is tuned to thinking and playing like a 'warrior'. But Fitzgerald Stadium is only one invigorating battleground. Wars are not won there. Neither are All Ireland titles.
We expect Cork to win this afternoon. In reality it might be no harm at all if they were to somehow lose it, to a Kerry team which, we still have to remind ourselves is short almost one-third of the 15 footballers who started against Cork last September and finished them off in the end without too much trouble.
The longer this Cork team spends looking into its soul, examining itself, and understanding that the likes of Graham Canty especially, but Anthony Lynch and Nicholas Murphy as well, will not be around for very much longer, the better football team and stronger group of individual footballers they might become.