Goulding's finishing touch vital
Allianz Football League Div 1
THEY usually meet at least three times per season in league and championship and, on the basis of yesterday's early-season shoot-out in Tralee, that pattern is likely to continue for Cork and Kerry.
It was sweet at the beginning and end for Cork, who, in recognition of their All-Ireland success, were clapped on to Austin Stack Park by the Kerry squad before battling through the tough conditions on a damp afternoon to secure the opening league points, thanks to a long-range stoppage-time pointed free from Daniel Goulding (pictured below). Donncha O'Connor had slotted another free a minute earlier to bring the sides level.
Once again, the placed-ball accuracy of Goulding and O'Connor proved crucial for Cork. Goulding pointed three frees and three '45s,' while O'Connor was on target with four frees as well, as two from open play.
Jack O'Connor maintained a diplomatic silence on whether referee, Michael Duffy made some harsh calls against Kerry in the closing quarter, but, from my vantage point, the Kerry manager had reason to feel hard done by.
But then the whole area of what constitutes a foul remains as grey as ever. Conor Counihan admits to being baffled by it all and, while he's not blaming referees, he believes it's a matter of continued frustration for players.
"It's very difficult to tackle now which is frustrating, especially for defenders. The element of common sense doesn't seem to be there. You have to look at the intent in a tackle. If it's reckless, it deserves to be punished, but if a player is making a genuine attempt to play the ball, it should be taken into consideration," he said.
Both sides lost a man in the second half on straight-red-card offences. Kerry's Barry John Keane was dismissed for an off-the-ball incident in the 55th minute and, before play resumed, the referee also sent off Cork's Noel O'Leary following consultation with an umpire.
That apart, it was a very sporting encounter, played at a lively place, while producing several excellent scores and some noteworthy individual performances. The score-to-opportunity ratio was remarkably high in the first half, with both sets of forwards stretching the defences to breaking point and finishing with impressive accuracy.
Cork led 0-7 to 0-6 after 22 minutes (both sides had kicked just one wide each at that stage), but Kerry won the remainder of the half, 0-5 to 0-3, to lead by 0-11 to 0-10 at the interval.
David Geaney, Kieran Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan and Donnchadh Walsh had been especially productive in the Kerry attack, while the Goulding-O'Connor double act, backed by some penetrating runs from Patrick Kelly, were causing most of the alarm at the other end.
Cork were the better side in the third quarter, using their dominance around midfield to press forward. Kerry managed just one point in the opening 25 minutes of the second half and found themselves trailing by 0-15 to 0-12.
"It looked as if we might pull away at that stage, but Kerry staged a great comeback which very nearly won the points," said a relieved Counihan afterwards.
Kerry sub Paul Geaney made a significant impact shortly after his arrival when he coolly slotted the ball to the Cork net in the 63rd minute after Darran O'Sullivan's driving run through the middle scattered the Cork defence.
Kieran O'Leary pointed a free to put Kerry a point ahead and he had an opportunity to extend their lead but missed the target.
It left Cork heading into stoppage time facing a one-point deficit, but experience came to their rescue as they powered up the momentum which took them deep into Kerry territory.
The referee twice adjudged that Kerry had fouled and, on both occasions, Goulding and O'Connor held their nerve to kick excellent points.
"Our free-takers stood up again today. That, and the experience gained over the last few years, really stood to us in the end. Having said that, you'd like to see more scores come from open play," said Counihan.
All six of Kerry's starting forwards, plus midfielder Anthony Maher and subs Paul Geaney and Kieran O'Leary scored, which was encouraging.
However, the manner in which Cork dominated the possession stakes for so long in the second half will be of concern to Jack O'Connor and Co.
"The stats tell me that we were in a lot of bother around the middle. We'll have to look at that," said O'Connor.
It wasn't just in the battle for primary possession that Cork were better -- they were also quicker to the break, while their support play was that bit slicker.
Nonetheless, Kerry remained alongside them all the way, due mainly to a high work-rate and individual enterprise.
"We'd be happy with a lot of aspects, but we didn't get enough ball into the forwards in the second half," said O'Connor.
Kerry lost Aidan O'Mahony to injury in the 45th minute which was a severe loss as he had been doing quite well. Cork won more breaking ball after his departure and used it well to apply pressure on the Kerry defence which drew frees and '45s.'
And with Goulding and O'Connor driving over the points with radar-like precision, it was enough to get Cork's new campaign off to the best possible start.
"You'd take two points away to Kerry any day," said Counihan. Indeed.
Scorers -- Cork: D Goulding 0-7 (3f, 3 '45s), D O'Connor 0-6 (4f), F Goold, C O'Neill, C O'Driscoll, P Kelly 0-1 each. Kerry: D Geaney 0-4 (1f), P Geaney 1-0, K Donaghy, D Walsh 0-2 each, Darran O'Sullivan, D Moran, BJ Walsh (f), BJ Keane, K O'Leary (f) 0-1 each.
Cork -- K O'Halloran; R Carey, J O'Sullivan, E Cadogan; C O'Driscoll, G Spillane, N O'Leary; A Walsh, F Goold; J Hayes, P Kelly, P O'Neill; D Goulding, C O'Neill, D O'Connor. Subs: P O'Flynn for Spillane (17), C Sheehan for Hayes (43), N Murphy for Walsh (53), D Goold for O'Neill (66), D O'Sullivan for O'Driscoll (69).
Kerry -- B Kealy; P Reidy, M O Se, P O'Connor; A O'Mahony, T O Se, J Lyne; A Maher, D Moran; BJ Keane, Darran O'Sullivan, D Walsh; BJ Walsh, K Donaghy, D Geaney. Subs: K O'Leary for BJ Walsh (28), S Enright for O'Connor (34), P Crowley for O'Mahony (45), S Scanlon for Maher (53), P Geaney for D Geaney (60).
Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo).