Gooch masterclass for rampant Kerry
Munster SFC semi-final
Colm Cooper certainly celebrated his birthday in fine style -- and in the best way he knows how -- by inspiring Kerry and tormenting the opposition like only he can.
Having turned 28 last Friday, the Kerry captain, yet again, gave a football masterclass -- scoring seven points (all but one from play) -- as he led his team to an emphatic 11-point victory over a depleted Limerick in this one-sided encounter at the Gaelic Grounds.
A total anti-climax from start to finish, a superior Kerry arrived in Limerick on Saturday afternoon expecting a character-searching challenge, but left completely untested after the home side simply failed to turn up. It was men against boys.
A means to an end in some ways, as Kerry's attention will now turn to the Munster final against age-old foes Cork early next month.
As manager Jack O'Connor explained:
"On paper they (Cork) look the team to beat. They appear to have the strongest panel in the country and they are going particularly well. It's a big incentive for them to come down to Killarney and try to turn us over," O'Connor said.
"It's a big game for our fellas. Cork haven't won in Killarney since the 1990s and we certainly don't want it to happen under our watch."
And on the back of the performance of Kerry's forwards against Limerick on Saturday night, a classic looks in store when the Munster final bandwagon rolls into Killarney, as the exceptionally dangerous Kerry attack had a field day against the Shannonsiders.
Kieran Donaghy returned to form, especially in the first half, with some brilliant high fielding when playing the role of creator-in-chief, while Declan O'Sullivan, Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran O'Leary all got in on the act.
Hugely efficient with their chances, Kerry raced into a 1-10 to 0-1 lead after 30 minutes, with Darran O'Sullivan's nimble footwork and soccer-style finish after 12 minutes a dagger through the Limerick challenge.
And everything that could go wrong for Limerick did go wrong. It was just one of those days. Already without the injured John Galvin and Stephen Lucey, the home side lost main midfielder Jim O'Donovan to a hamstring injury in the first half, while his replacement Eoin Joy only lasted minutes on the pitch before he too got injured.
"Eoin (Joy) could have made an impact and burst into the game, but within a minute he goes down with a hamstring injury. That just summed up our evening," Limerick manager Maurice Horan said.
"We made small inroads towards the end of the first half, but they opened us up again at the start of the second half. We needed to come out strong at the start of the second half but they really finished us off. That was it."
It's true that Limerick did finish the first half strongly, as Ger Collins' superb strike was added to by points from Johnny McCarthy and Collins himself, but Kerry still led 1-10 to 1-4 at the break. And a comeback never looked likely.
A polar opposite to last year's epic Munster final, the second half resembled a challenge game in some ways for Kerry as they scored at will, having done all the hard work in that opening half when they were hugely impressive.
Strong in the middle with Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan, all the breaks were gobbled up by Kerry men, resulting in attack after attack, as Limerick, for some reason, just sat off Gooch and Co, allowing them the freedom of Limerick city. That was always going to spell trouble.
After O'Donovan pointed Limerick ahead after just 15 seconds, the green and gold juggernaut took over, with Donaghy a fulcrum in attack.
Scoring Kerry's first point, he set up Darran O'Sullivan's goal and was involved in many more scores, as Kerry put Limerick under enormous pressure.
With points flowing from Cooper, Sheehan, Declan O'Sullivan and Darran O'Sullivan, this game was effectively over by the time Collins rattled the Kerry net for Limerick.
And any chance Limerick had of staging an unlikely comeback never materialised as a clinical Kerry outscored the home side by six points to one at the start of the second half. And that was that.
Where this Kerry team stands right now, after facile wins over Tipperary and Limerick, is hard to say. They won't garner a whole lot from this triumph. But they are certainly moving in the right direction.
The one worry is the concession of 3-9 -- a score that could win a lot of games -- against a less-than-potent Limerick strike force, but when Seanie Buckley and Seamus O'Neill banged home those two second-half Limerick goals, the game was already over.
Roll on Sunday, July 3, and the Munster final between the reigning provincial kings and the All-Ireland champions. Now that will be a game.
Scorers -- Kerry: C Cooper 0-7 (1f), Darran O'Sullivan 1-3, Declan O'Sullivan 0-4, B Sheehan (1f), K Donaghy, K O'Leary 0-2 each, K Young, P Galvin, B J Keane, D Geaney, E Brosnan, D Bohan 0-1 each. Limerick: G Collins 1-4 (1f), S Buckley, S Carroll
1-0 each, S Kelly (1f), J O'Donovan, J McCarthy, S Gallagher, M Sheehan 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 6; S Enright 7, M Ó Sé 7, T O'Sullivan 7; A O'Mahony 7, E Brosnan 6, K Young ; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 7; Darran O'Sullivan 7, Declan O'Sullivan 7, D Walsh 7; C Cooper 8, K Donaghy 8, K O'Leary 7. Subs: P Galvin 6 for Darran O'Sullivan (50), M Quirke 6 for Sheehan (57), B J Keane 6 for Walsh (57), D Bohan 6 for O'Mahony (57), D Geaney 6 for O'Leary (60).
Limerick -- B Scanlon 6; S Lavin 6, S Gallagher 6, M O'Riordan 5; P Ranahan 6, J McCarthy 6, B Fitzpatrick 6; T Lee 6, J O'Donovan 5; S Buckley 7, J Kelly 5, S Kelly 6; G Collins 8, J Cooke 6, I Ryan 6. Subs: E Joy for O'Donovan (28), M Sheehan 6 for Joy (inj 31), E O'Connor 6 for J Kelly (33), J Riordan 6 for Fitzpatrick (45), S Carroll 6 for S Kelly (58).
REF -- R Hickey (Clare).