CORK versus Kerry is one of those fixtures isn't it?
Practically guaranteed a good game aren't you? That's why the crowd was almost double what it was the Saturday beforehand when Down came to town and parked the bus. As a spectacle that game was lamentable, but Cork and Kerry in Austin Stack Park that'd be a different kettle of fish entirely wouldn't it?
If only. If anything it was worse. The scoreboard read four points to three in favour of the hosts at the break. This was tearing your hair out, digging your nails into the palm of your hand frustrating. Kerry were lateral, they were ponderous, they were narrow and as frustrating as that was for the home support there's a good argument that there was little else they could do. Cork showed no ambition to take this game to their neighbours.
Instead the tactic seemed to be to drop back, invite Kerry on, catch them on the counter. After the match Conor Counihan seemed to suggest that the loss of certain players forced his hand. The trouble with that is that on the rare occasions Cork did counter they seemed more than capable of scoring points. More capable of scoring points than Kerry. Their three first half scores came from play. Only one of Kerry's did.
As a matter of fact no Kerry forward scored in the first half of this game. Instead Kerry relied on Johnny Buckley frees and an Anthony Maher point before the break to give them a lead they just about deserved. They weren't impressive, they most certainly weren't impressive, at least they were taking the game to the Rebels. At the beginning of the half it looked like Cork's strategy, unpleasant and all as it was to watch, might not be totally ineffective.
Andrew O'Sullivan, who really could have done with more ball, scored the first point of the game. Aidan Walsh fired them back into the lead on twelve minutes after Johnny Buckley levelled things up with a free. Walsh could have had a goal a minute or so later were it not for Mark Griffin's block. That's the single most frustrating thing about this Cork performance. They've got the footballers, even without Colm O'Neill and Graham Canty and Donncha O'Connor, to play a more expansive game than this.
This was the blanket defence at its most unsophisticated. Donegal drop men back. They also break forward in numbers. Cork had the first part, just not the second. Kerry were somewhere inbetween. They didn't drop quite as many back. They didn't surge forward with quite as many. In time this might prove effective. Sunday showed it's still very much a work in progress. Kerry don't break quickly enough, they don't have men on the overlap often enough.
The Rebels stayed within touching distance of the Kingdom up until about 50th minute with their approach – a Buckley free was countered with a Fintan Goold point. Paul Kerrigan cracked the ball off the crossbar with a shot that was probably for a point, or if you're feeling generous an audacious attempt to chip Brendan Kealy that very nearly paid dividends. Had Cork scored a goal at that juncture they could well have seen out this game.
Kerry were still labouring. With the wind at their backs they needed to start kicking from distance. That's precisely what they did. The first indication that this was going to be Kerry's day was when Killian Young (pictured) pushed on, collected a pass from Donnchadh Walsh and fired a beautiful point from distance. That was more like it. Kieran O'Leary followed up with a first point of the day from a Kerry forward.
Kerry were on a wee bit of a roll. Then Colm Cooper and Paul Galvin were sprung. They brought with them energy, dynamism and incision that Kerry could have done with earlier in this game. Cooper went to centre-forward and pinged the ball around. Galvin made the type of runs that Kerry forwards hadn't been making nearly enough of. In the six or seven minutes after their introduction Kerry scored three further points – a Buckley free, a Galvin point from play and a first score of the league for Kieran Donaghy – to make it a six point game.
After that they slackened off somewhat. The priority then – understandably for a team threatened with relegation – was to make certain of the victory. A couple of Barry O'Driscoll frees was all Cork could muster.
Positivity, along with a little sprinking of Cooper magic, won the day. After such a horrendous first half you couldn't ask for more than that.
Kerry: Brendan Kealy, Marc Ó Sé, Mark Griffin, Shane Enright, Tomás Ó Sé, Killian Young (0-1), Brian McGuire, Anthony Maher (0-1), Johnny Buckley (0-6f), Jonathan Lyne, Donnchadh Walsh, Kieran O'Leary (0-1), Declan O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy (0-1), Darran O'Sullivan Subs: Paul Galvin (0-1) for D Walsh, Colm Cooper for K O'Leary, James O'Donoghue for D O'Sullivan, Fionn Fitzgerald for B McGuire, Peter Crowley for T Ó Sé
Cork: Ken O'Halloran, MIchael Shields, Jamie O'Sullivan, John McLoughlin, Paudie Kissane, Noel O'Leary, Tomás Clancy, Aidan Walsh (0-1), Alan O'Connor, Fintan Goold (0-2), Mark Collins (0-1), Andrew O'Sullivan (0-1), Daniel Goulding, Barry O'Driscoll (0-2f), Paul Kerrigan Subs: Pearse O'Neill for A O'Connor, Liam Shorten for D Goulding, Brian Shanahan for N O'Leary, Denis Crowley for M Collins
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)