Kerry relinquish title as Hayes goal hands Cork early season bragging rights
Kerry were relieved of their McGrath Cup title on Sunday by a Cork team that showed a little more composure and cohesion, with John Hayes' second half goal by and large being the game changer as Munster's aristrocrats got an early look at each other.
The result didn't come as a huge surprise, with most of the pre-match predictions siding with a Cork victory, based mostly – we presume – on the fact that Kerry were missing more first choice players than Cork. That was clear from the counties relative performances and results thus far in the competition, and while this was a much tighter and keenly contested affair, so it proved that Cork had that little bit more strength in depth to dethrone the champions by four points.
Not that Kerry didn't have their chances to hold on to the silverware. They did. Three times in the first half they breached the Cork defence only to be denied by goalkeeper Ken O'Halloran and some last-ditch defending. In the 13th minute O'Halloran saved with his leg from Paul Geaney, and a few minutes later Barry John Keane had his shot blocked down with Bryan Sheehan dragging the rebound wide of the goal. Closer to half time Geaney cleverly set up Donnchadh Walsh for a goal chance but he, too, was denied by a point-blank O'Halloran save.
Had any one of those goal opportunities been converted this contest might have been taken on a considerably different journey, but instead it was Cork who raised the game's only green flag, which, in essence, determined that the title changed hands.
Having been for the most part dominated in the first half, Cork limped to the half time break just a point behind, 0-5 to 0-4, and the general feeling was that any appreciable improvement in their collective performance would see them kick on. And so it proved. The first three scores of the new half were Cork's: a Mark Collins free and points from Paul Kerrigan and Michael Shields.
Shields had, at this stage, been repositioned from corner back to wing back, with James Loughrey moving to centre back, giving Cork a stronger platform across their half back line, and they began to turn the screw on Kerry.
It took Kerry – through Jonathan Lyne – 13 minutes of the second half to get their first score, but moments later John Hayes gathered Aidan Walsh's long delivery, and the Carbery Rangers man deftly evaded a tackle, rounded Brian Kelly and slipped the ball to the net from an acute angle.
That put Cork 1-7 to 0-6 ahead and two Daniel Goulding points and suddenly Cork were six points clear of the champions and being pushed along by the vociferous crowd, who were a tad over-enthusiastic for this time of year. Still, this was the one match in this entire McGrath Cup campaign that could be termed a real contest.
Points from Bryan Sheehan (free) and Shane O'Callaghan dragged Kerry back into contention and the tempo was upped considerably and when Keane (free) and Jonathan Lyne added points after Andrew O'Sullivan's score for Cork, all that separated the teams was Hayes' goal with eight minutes and change to play.
As the intensity deepened the first black card duly arrived: Aidan O'Mahony's 10-minute substitute's appearance ended for a late tackle on Aidan Walsh. Fintan Goold followed soon after for on David Moran, and - like buses - the third black arrived came along moments later when Michael Shields followed Goold for draging down Donnchadh Walsh in the middle of the field. All three were replaced as neither team had used their full complement of substitutions.
Cork were forced into some resolute defending in the last five minutes as Kerry hunted an equalising goal to no avail, ensuring the McGrath Cup has a new residence for the year ahead, which, one imagines, will not unduly bother either county as the year progresses.
As was the case with Kerry and Eamonn Fitzmaurice last year, this win will probably mean more to Cork and Brian Cuthbert this time around, easing the new Cork manager into the bear-pit of senior management with an early trinket.
From Kerry's perspective it is never desirable or palatable to lose to Cork, but it was never any secret that this McGrath Cup was more about discovering a few new players rather than a successful defence of the title. To that end the Kerry management can be reasonably pleased, even if Fitzmaurice wasn't seeing too many positives in Sunday's performance.
CORK: Ken O'Halloran; John McLoughlin, Eoin Cadogan, Michael Shields (0-1); James Loughrey, Tom Clancy, Kevin O'Driscoll; Aidan Walsh (0-1), Fintan Goold; Colm O'Driscoll, Mark Collins (0-2, 1f), Andrew O'Sullivan (0-1); Daniel Goulding (0-4, 2f), Paul Kerrigan (0-1), Barry O'Driscoll. Subs: Donnacha O'Connor (0-1f) for C O'Driscoll, John Hayes (1-0) for B O'Driscoll, 43; Mark Sugrue for Collins, 53; Brian Hurley for Goulding, 62; Michael O Laoire for Goold, 65 (black), Alan Sheehan for Shields, 67 (black).
KERRY: Brian Kelly, Paul Murphy, Mark Griffin, Shane Enright, Peter Crowley, Jack Sherwood, Mikey Geaney, Anthony Maher, David Moran, Jonathan Lyne (0-2), Bryan Sheehan (0-3, 2f, 1 '45'), Donnchadh Walsh (0-1), Alan Fitzgerald, Paul Geaney, Barry John Keane (0-3, 1f). Subs: Shane O'Callaghan (0-1) for Fitzgerald, ht; Marcus Mangan for Maher, 44; Aidan O'Mahony for Sheehan (53), Paul Galvin for Sherwood (53); Brian McGuire for M Geaney, 62; Barry Shanahan for O'Mahony, 64 (black).
Referee: Derek O'Mahony (Tipp)