Delight for Fitzmaurice as Kingdom grab lifeline
KERRY will pack their suitcases this week with much lighter hearts after beating the old enemy in Tralee yesterday to keep their necks off the Division 1 chopping block.
They're far from safe yet as a testing trip to one of their more recently acquired enemies (Tyrone) still looms to decide their fate. But a second win in a row, and especially since it was over Cork, had their addled supporters virtually swooning in Austin Stack Park.
Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice remained insistent that their five-day Easter training trip in Portugal has always been designed with the championship in mind.
On this form, there'll be little time for buckets and spades alright, but some extra bonding and training will do them no harm either ahead of the trip to Omagh upon which so much now rides.
Battling to avoid the drop to Division 2, an ignominy the Kingdom haven't suffered since 2001, dragged them out of a quagmire of a game yesterday when it was the paucity of Cork's challenge that was the greater talking point afterwards.
At half-time the 6,320 crowd had a great case for demanding their money back. The scoreline read Kerry 0-4 Cork 0-3 and the pace, admittedly in a swirling arctic wind, was not just pedestrian but somnambulist.
All of Kerry's scores had come from midfielders Johnny Buckley (three frees) and Anthony Maher.
They were still battling badly up front against the wind and Cork's unashamed blanket defence. Wind advantage finally helped Kerry to score from long-range, often the key to unlocking such packed defences.
However, it still took until the 52nd minute for Kerry to get their first score from a forward (Kieran O'Leary), and it was noticeable that their attack only seemed to motor properly when Colm Cooper and Paul Galvin were introduced.
When the veteran duo finally arrived – it was the Gooch's first appearance since the 2012 All-Ireland quarter-final – the hysteria was ear-splitting, and with good reason.
Trailing by a point after 50 minutes, Kerry rapidly kicked five unanswered scores in the next 10 minutes to put victory beyond doubt.
Quite why Cork faded so badly and took such an ultra-defensive attitude to the game when their semi-final spot was still at stake remains a mystery, though things might have been different had Paul Kerrigan's audacious effort at a chipped goal early in the second-half not come back off the crossbar.
The Rebels are, admittedly, without a host of marquee players, including late withdrawal Graham Canty, but manager Conor Counihan wasn't using that as an excuse.
"We're trying out different tactics at different stages," he said when asked about their surprisingly defensive approach.
"Whether you are missing players or you aren't, you still have to try and play to different plans and try to adapt and that sort of thing. We decided to go that way and will adapt as the year goes on.
"Aidan had a goal chance in the first half cleared off the line, Paul had one cleared off the crossbar, but I think Kerry showed a bit more urgency. Whether it was psychological or not, the fact they were probably on two points or whatever it was, they had a bit of an edge to them, more than we had."
Fitzmaurice had lots more reasons to be cheerful. "The big thing for us was that the last league game was going to be relevant and that we're going up to Omagh with a chance still to stay up," he said. "I suppose that bit of desperation probably told that bit more (for us) than Cork.
"They can still make a league semi-final if they win their last game, which is at home, so that was probably a factor. I'm just delighted we're still battling there and still have a chance to stay up."
Mark Griffin's first start at full-back, one of those central defensive conundrums that Kerry still need to solve, was certainly impressive.
Judging him against a team who didn't test him with any serious high ball is a bit premature but the Foilmore youngster's defensive reading of the game was impressive and, as Fitzmaurice noted, he's not afraid to attack the ball.
After quelling the early dominance of Aidan Walsh, the Kerry midfield was also on top, with Buckley impressive from play and frees.
Centre-back Killian Young was also good in a defence which conceded only 0-2 from play in the second half but their early attack was worryingly lateral and lacked penetration and only in the second half did they stop idling on the ball and get it in quickly.
Man of the match: J Buckley (Kerry)
Scorers – Kerry: J Buckley 0-6 (6fs), K Young, A Maher, K O'Leary, K Donaghy, P Galvin 0-1 each. Cork: F Goold, B O'Driscoll (2fs) 0-2 each, T Clancy, A Walsh, A O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Kerry – B Kealy 8; S Enright 8, M Griffin 9, M O Se 7; K Young 8, T O Se 7, B McGuire 7; A Maher 7, J Buckley 9; J Lyne 7, D Walsh 6, K O'Leary 7; Declan O'Sullivan 7, K Donaghy 7, Darran O'Sullivan 8. Subs: C Cooper 8 for O'Leary (53), P Galvin 8 for Walsh (53), J O'Donoghue 7 for Darran O'Sullivan (62), P Crowley for T O Se (68), F Fitzgerald for McGuire (72).
Cork – K O'Halloran 7; M Shields 7, J McLoughlin 6, J O'Sullivan 7; P Kissane 8, N O'Leary 6, T Clancy 7; A Walsh 7, A O'Connor 5; F Goold 7, M Collins 6, A O'Sullivan 7; D Goulding 7, B O'Driscoll 7, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: P O'Neill 5 for O'Connor (half-time), L Shorten 6 for Goulding (60), B Shanahan 6 for O'Leary ( 60), J Fitzpatrick 6 for Kerrigan (64), D Crowley for Collins (69).
Ref – C Reilly (Meath)