Kerry edge phoney war
Experimental line-ups play out uncharacteristically calm clash of the kingpins
Mcgrath Cup SF semi-final
Published 24/01/2011 | 05:00
Where does the McGrath Cup fit into the psyche of the Cork and Kerry footballers given their recent history of rivalry, enmity even?
Jack O'Connor emerges from the Kerry dressing room shrugging his shoulders at the gravity of the occasion of this semi-final. "You're not going to get too excited about this one lads, are ye?" he asks.
The calm before the storm? It was even more serene than calm. The temperature will no doubt rise a few notches when the sides meet in two weeks' time and more familiar faces return for the opening league match in Tralee.
But for now it is an exercise in panel-gazing. Conor Counihan and three of his selectors chose the highest vantage point on the uncovered terrace at the Dr Crokes ground, pressed into action when Austin Stack Park was declared unplayable for the night before.
On the sideline, another selector Terry O'Neill was left with the baton, just as he had been for the two previous games as the squad holidayed in South Africa. Only at half-time did Counihan and the others venture down for consultation.
Such is the depth of the Cork squad right now that Counihan was able to send close to his first team to Kildare on Saturday for a challenge against Meath which they won. But with any contest between these two protagonists there is always interest as pointers are sought for how things can be proved. In that respect if any team was to deem it more important to win it was Kerry -- marginally.
A case could be made for at least seven of their starting team being close to a championship squad. Certainly eight could be considered in Kerry's top 20. A trimmed down Tomas O Se anchored the defence from a position he may have to get used to but brother Marc was a late withdrawal because of 'flu.
In Kerry, the emphasis is on finding defenders to support the O Ses and that won't be easy. Anything up to three could be required by championship time but so far the search has thrown up scant new material. For Kerry to be successful again that particular hunt has to yield results.
Shane Enright had been talked about as a potential corner-back up to yesterday but his early withdrawal after conceding a penalty, albeit just outside the area, will have put him slightly back down the pecking order.
Fiachra Lynch converted for Cork to turn a game that had been drifting away from them back in their favour.
Darran O'Sullivan's rampaging runs early on had helped Kerry forge a 0-8 to 0-4 lead but Lynch's 23rd-minute goal made a different game of it.
The same player had a gilt-edged opportunity to put the game out of sight early in the second half when Cork led by four points, 1-9 to 0-8, but was brilliantly blocked at close range by Brendan Kealy.
It was Kealy's second important save of the day and underlined that whatever frailties he has under a high ball they don't have a better shot-stopper around.
Between Lynch's goal and that second-half save Kerry failed to score, a 23-minute spell that didn't bode well for the home side.
But Cork trumped them with a 26-minute barren spell in the second half when Kerry re-asserted themselves through Anthony Maher and Seamus Scanlon at midfield.
In that time Kerry opened them up with Donnacha Walsh dispatching a trademark goal and a David Moran penalty, after O'Sullivan's jersey was tugged by Richard O'Sullivan as he bore down on goal.
"We were disappointed today," confessed O'Neill. "We'd a great 20 minutes before half-time but we didn't get the scores afterwards. The inexperience probably told during that period. None of the forward line would have a huge amount of experience of this level."
The arrival of Kieran O'Connor early on to bring order on Darran O'Sullivan and later Donncha O'Connor and Nicholas Murphy indicated that the afternoon wasn't all about auditions. But they'll be otherwise pleased with the few sparks shown by half-forwards David Goold and Kevin McMahon, and Mark Cronin at corner-forward.
The truth is, however, that they are still only playing for shirt numbers in their 20s this year.
For Kerry, O'Connor has more surgery to conduct and ageing legs could yet be a factor by summer time. He's confident that Tom O'Sullivan will return sometime after Tommy Griffin and Killian Young. But for now there are gaps. Jonathan Lyne, a relation of the Spillanes, could be a contender however after another feisty display yesterday.
"We won't have too many sleepless nights if we don't win the McGrath Cup," admitted O'Connor. "It's a good way for trying to prepare for the league and get our panel in shape."
O'Sullivan's contribution was a positive footnote from the day, O'Connor agreed: "We played him in the backs the first day because we were stuck for backs. He's in a good patch of form at the moment. We are playing him more centrally so that when he does run he's running at the goals. It seems to be working at the moment."
Jack has put the frustration of last season behind him, the dark side of their collisions with Cork, trial by TV, handpass rules and the world on the back of the Kingdom.
He makes light of Tom O'Sullivan's future, suggesting he'll be back because "it's too cold for him at the moment."
And then he's off, the first engagement with the 'auld enemy' behind him. They won't always draw breath and be as civil as this.
Scorers - Kerry: D Geaney 0-5 (4f); D Moran 1-1 (1-0 pen); D Walsh 1-0; Darran O'Sullivan 0-3; P Geaney 0-2. Cork: F Lynch 1-2 (1-0 pen); M Cronin 0-4 (2f); D Goold (1 '45'), K McMahon 0-2 each; G Spillane 0-1.
KERRY -- B Kealy; P Reidy, Danny O'Sullivan, S Enright; J Lyne, T O Se, E Hickson; A Maher, S Scanlon; A O'Sullivan, Darran O'Sullivan, D Walsh; D Geaney, D Moran, P Geaney. Subs: P O'Connor for Enright (28), G Sayers for A O'Sullivan (h-t), K O'Dwyer for Hickson (49), M O'Donoghue for D Geaney (59).
CORK -- D Lordan; I Jones, G Spillane, E Cotter; D O'Sullivan, R O'Sullivan, AJ O'Connor; E Keane, A O'Connor; D Goold, T O'Neill, K McMahon; M Cronin, F Lynch, C O'Driscoll. Subs: K O'Connor for AJ O'Connor (21), D O'Connor for O'Driscoll (52), N Murphy for O'Neill (57), J Sexton for Lynch (63), B Shanahan for Jones (69)
Ref -- R Hickey (Clare).