Saturday 25 February 2017

Eoin Liston: Fitzmaurice's calls crucial as Kingdom show their hunger

Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

There were three moments of magic that lit up the Munster final replay in rainy Killarney on Saturday night.

Importantly, two of them came from Kerry players and only one from a Cork man. This is what tipped the balance of such a tight, tense game.

The Rebels' goal was brilliant, with Donncha O'Connor hitting a lovely foot pass and Colm O'Neill showing quick hands to play in Paul Kerrigan, who was being closely tracked by two Kerry defenders but still finished.

Just minutes later Brendan Kealy made an incredible save from Stephen Cronin's shot, which was surely heading into the back of the net, and deflected it onto the post.

The goal for Cork was a huge score and dragged them right back into the game and another one so quickly, right before half-time, could have set them on the road to a first win at Fitzgerald Stadium in 20 years.

Then in the second half we had the third special moment and it came from Colm Cooper, who wasn't long on the field as a substitute. From a quick free he hit a wonderful pass off his weaker right foot and laid it right in the path of Donnchadh Walsh, who made a brilliant 40-yard-run.

Another player would have gone for his point from the free just to settle his nerves, but that's not the Gooch's style. Kerry got the break when Walsh's shot rebounded to Paul Geaney after being saved by Ken O'Halloran, allowing Geaney to finish to an empty net.

But sometimes you earn the bit of luck and Gooch's brilliant vision and execution certainly earned it on this occasion.

As big as Cork's goal was, meaning they went in just one point down at the break, Kerry's was even bigger. The Kingdom won the second half four scores to two and one of those was a goal, illustrating how fine the margins were.

I was massively impressed by the pace that this game was played at, particularly given the dirty conditions with the wind blowing and the rain bucketing down. I was certainly happy to be retired and sitting in the safety of the stands when I watched Kieran Donaghy make those lung-bursting runs to the wings from full-forward to collect ball.

He was a great outlet for ball in the first half and he played well, but too often we hit ball into Kerry forwards who were outnumbered and when they got possession they were hounded.

I always take notes during Kerry games and at half-time I wrote 'less fouls, concede no goals and our bench will win it.' That's exactly what happened.

In the second half Paul Murphy and Jonathan Lyne really exploded into the game. James O'Donoghue worked tirelessly, coming out 50 yards looking for possession, where Kerry needed an outlet, though I'd have to compliment his marker James Loughrey on a great game.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his management team gave a masterclass. They made brave calls before throw-in and during the game. When Gooch came in for Donaghy they had to play a different game because the high ball in was no longer an option.

The team worked harder, they ran the ball up the sideline, circled it back, worked it again and then waited until the opportunity presented itself.

Man of the match was between David Moran and Shane Enright, but over the two games I would say that Shane was clearly Kerry's best player, marking Brian Hurley out of it.

Something else that can't be underestimated is the understanding in the midfield partnership between David Moran and Anthony Maher. Maher works so hard, he is the ideal defensive midfielder who puts up a screen in front of his defence and this allows Moran to power forward.

Cork have a qualifier against Kildare next weekend, which won't be easy. But they pushed the All-Ireland champions right to the brink twice and they'll take massive confidence from that. Also, the weather on Saturday didn't suit them - Kerry had the option of going long, but Cork's game plan involves a lot of hand-passing. In wet weather that makes fumbles and turnovers more likely.

Winning another Munster title and going the direct route to Croke Park is huge for Kerry. The Kingdom always improve as the season goes on, they should have a more settled team and they will have learned so much over the past fortnight.

They've also proved the hunger still exists. That ingredient may have been lacking in the draw, but on Saturday they showed just how badly they wanted to win.

Indo Sport

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