Wasteful Rebels frustrate Counihan as Kerry rule roost
KERRY have one foot in the Division 1 semi-finals and will derive added satisfaction that beating Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh played a major part in getting them there.
Yesterday's instalment of the great rivalry won't be recalled as one of the most memorable but, as Jack O'Connor pointed out afterwards, it's still only March and players are some way short of full pace.
Still, the stakes are always high when this pair meet, although it wasn't always evident from Cork's first-half performance which lacked energy and cohesion.
In contrast, Kerry were focused and inventive, driving forward relentlessly against the wind and building up a six-point lead by half-time, 0-8 to 0-2.
Cork's only first-half scores came from a pointed free by Donncha O'Connor in the third minute and their opening point from open play off Aidan Walsh's boot in the 34th minute.
The root cause of Cork's problem was their failure to match Kerry in application or shape, both of which improved significantly in the second half.
However, they had left themselves with too much to do against a Kerry side that always looked as if it could increase momentum if the occasion demanded.
Of course, it might have all been very different if Graham Canty's storming run through the heart of the Kerry defence had yielded a goal in the 30th minute but, unfortunately for him, his shot flew wide of the post. Still, it was a defiant gesture by Canty who continued to take the challenge to Kerry in the second half, this time with more consistent support. Cork lined up for the second half with Conor Counihan's harsh words stinging their ears.
"It was an absolutely crazy first half. You wouldn't win any game playing the way we did in the first half," he said. "It just wasn't good enough -- the lads know that themselves. There was a bit of a response in the second half but you have to play for the full 70 minutes at this level or you don't get a result.
"We played well in the second half but it's disappointing in the sense that if we could have done that in the first half, we would have given ourselves a right good chance of winning."
Counihan was deeply frustrated by the proliferation of basic errors and by the failure of many of his players to take responsibility.
It was all very different in the Kerry ranks where the hard work was shared out evenly across all sectors.
The defence easily dominated their opponents in the opening half; Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher were on top at midfield while, in attack, Declan and Darran O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy were taking their markers into uncomfortable territory.
Donaghy opted to play despite the death of his father Oliver on Friday and paid a glowing tribute to his memory by turning in a solid performance.
Cork trailed by 0-9 to 0-3 after 40 minutes before they finally succeeded in raising the tempo, scoring three points in three minutes to raise hopes of a revival.
However, Kerry responded with three points and remained a safe distance ahead for most of the second half. Two stoppage-time points brought Cork within striking distance but Kerry saw it through to a safe conclusion in a game where they were more dominant than the two-point winning margin suggests.
"We're trying out a share of new lads and it's good to get them as many games as possible at this level. We played well against the wind in the first half but it took a fair bit out of the legs. We knew Cork would come back at us, which they did, but we coped well," said Jack O'Connor.
It's all going very much to plan for Kerry at present but pressure is now mounting on Cork who have dropped five out of a possible 10 points.
"We didn't punish Kerry when we had the chances," bemoaned Counihan, who knows that the margins will be very tight in this division.
"You could find yourself in relegation trouble or going for a place in the top four. That's the type of league it is," he said.
Certainly, Cork's inconsistency is a worry for Counihan, nor can he be satisfied with the manner in which they allowed Kerry to dominate them in the first half.
And while the loss of two league points in March may not be all that significant in the long run, Cork can't be happy with allowing Kerry to establish an early-season psychological edge.
"Not many teams come here and win so we're very pleased to have taken the points. We're going nicely and are where we want to be. Playing as many games as possible against the top teams can only bring you on," said Darran O'Sullivan.
With games against Laois (home) and Mayo (away), Kerry are all but certain to make the semi-finals on April 15 and while Cork's fate is also very much in their own hands, they will need to be a whole lot more driven over the last two games to book into the last four.
Man of the Match: Bryan Sheehan (Kerry)
Scorers -- Kerry: B Sheehan (3f), Declan O'Sullivan (2f) 0-4 each, A Maher, Darran O'Sullivan, K Donaghy, BJ Keane, P Galvin 0-1 each. Cork: D O'Connor 0-5f, A Walsh 0-2, M Collins, G Canty, F Goold, E Cotter 0-1.
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; M O Se 7, A O'Mahony 7, K Young 7; P Crowley 6, E Brosnan 7, B McGuire 6; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 8; P Galvin 8, Darran O'Sullivan 7, Declan O'Sullivan 8; BJ Keane 6, K Donaghy 7, P Curtin 5. Subs: T O Se 7 for Crowley (44), K O'Leary for Curtin (55), D O'Callaghan for Keane (65).
Cork -- K O'Halloran 6; R Carey 6, M Shields 7, E Cotter 7; E Cadogan 7, G Canty 7, P Kissane 6; A O'Connor 6, P O'Neill 6; F Goold 6, M Collins 6, P Kelly 5; C O'Neill 5, A Walsh 7, D O'Connor 6. Subs: P Kerrigan 5 for O'Neill (49), N O'Leary 6 for O'Neill (52), L Shorten for Collins (62), B O'Driscoll for Kelly (67).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).