Kerry 'hammer the hammer' to cast fresh doubt over Cork
Kerry 1-11 Cork 1-6
Published 20/07/2015 | 02:30
As the darkness and gloom descended in the final 10 minutes of this replay, Cork resorted to raining ball after ball down on top of Alan O'Connor, posted to full-forward in a desperate attempt to scramble something, anything from the night.
Munster SFC final replay
Four times his colleagues guided deliveries in the direction of their midfielder, four times the Kerry cover around him dealt with the situation.
This is what it had come down to for Cork. Their enforcer in the drawn game, the man who had 'bullied' Kerry, becoming a last-ditch attempt in a role he's unfamiliar with at this level.
The hammer had been well and truly hammered, to quote an old Kerry soldier.
O'Connor had been peripheral throughout, perhaps his zest for confrontation curtailed by an early yellow card. Brian Cuthbert would have been well entitled to have taken him off but what message would that have sent out to colleagues from whom the hope was visibly draining once Paul Geaney struck for a 49th-minute goal?
And what would it have said to Kerry? What they knew anyway - that they had gone for the strongest part of Cork's game the last day and successfully taken it down.
David Moran and Anthony Maher have forged a reputation in the last 12 months as being the strongest midfield partnership in the game. They franked that impressively here.
Moran came close to the extraordinary heights he reached in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo: his industry in such challenging conditions embodied Kerry's resolve to complete a Munster three-in-a-row for the first time since 2005, and a 77th title in all.
He won breaks off kick-outs, he played intelligent foot-passes, he linked, he got back and made interceptions. He even won both throw-ins cleanly.
Maher went toe-to-toe with O'Connor, finishing the game at full-back when O'Connor was pushed in, and dominated their exchange.
Cork didn't score for the last 26 minutes, including two minutes of added-time. As much as the result will deflate Cuthbert and his management, that element really compounds it.
They recovered so much lost reputation the last day with their courage and conviction. But not to score with a wind at their backs for that length of time when they were chasing a tight game for most of it undermines some of that recovery. In truth they were a little 'rudderless' in that last quarter.
So much of that was down the discipline and effectiveness of the Kerry defence. Once again Eamonn Fitzmaurice's judgment with a team selection has been impeccable.
Maher, Geaney, Paul Murphy and Aidan O'Mahony all justified their recalls. Little wonder then that Fitzmaurice said he was much closer to knowing his best team after this.
With Mark Collins operating effectively as a sweeper for much of the game at the other end, O'Mahony was the loose man and he read it well, apart from the stray kick that created the turnover for Paul Kerrigan's goal.
Paul Murphy was defiant in the closing quarter, Killian Young was a safe pair of hands, but Shane Enright was the star, again holding Brian Hurley scoreless from play and forcing him away from the danger zone.
From where he was in the opening exchanges in Limerick last year, Enright has been a revelation.
"Shane won that battle hands down over both games which was a big thing for us," Fitzmaurice acknowledged afterwards.
For Fitzmaurice the timing of Colm Cooper's introduction was also satisfying as he engineered the opening for Geaney's goal with a quickly taken free to Donnchadh Walsh, whose shot was parried by Ken O'Halloran.
Cooper had replaced Kieran Donaghy five minutes earlier, heralding a shift in emphasis by the champions as the captain struggled in the conditions to make ball stick.
He had his successes in the first half but generally Jamie O'Sullivan, a pre match replacement for the injured Eoin Cadogan (hamstring) coped well.
Cooper brought calm to Kerry's game in a way that he couldn't the last day and that poses more challenges for the management. Is it time to dilute the tactic that effectively won them last year's All-Ireland title?
Around Donaghy, James O'Donoghue buzzed away all evening. His energy was boundless, he never stopped showing for the ball, though he didn't always use it effectively, and his marker James Loughrey managed to turn him back quite a few times. But he's building a head of steam again.
Geaney got the goal and a couple of early points from play that had Kerry in front by 0-7 to 0-4 by the 28th minute.
Once again Bryan Sheehan's free-taking was flawless, while his support to the Maher-Moran axis was most pronounced in that opening half.
But Cork's goal changed the dynamic and once again it exposed Kerry's defence to runners going directly at them.
Donncha O'Connor, prominent early on, carved the opening, Colm O'Neill laid off to the in-rushing Kerrigan, who picked a gap and beat Brendan Kealy with a rasping effort to the roof of the net. Minutes later Kealy needed to be smart to deny Stephen Cronin.
Despite being on the back foot around the middle, Cork still had channels there through Collins, Brian O'Driscoll on one side and Paddy Kelly and Kerrigan on the other.
They had a decent position at the break, trailing 0-8 to 1-4 and looked more likely to push on in the third quarter. But the brilliantly-engineered Kerry goal changed much more than the scoreboard.
For Fitzmaurice it was a "step in the right direction".
"The middle sector in general, the middle eight, was a good bit more solid this time around. We won more breaking ball, we tackled that bit better, we were better in the air," he said.
Cuthbert said he had "expected" his side to come again after conceding the goal.
"If you take how the game was going and factor in the weather, too, a goal at that stage was always going to be a huge score," he said.
"Hats off to Kerry. They got it and after that they defended very well, though I expected us to come again."
That they didn't leaves another psychological challenge, he acknowledged, to rise for Kildare on Saturday, with a venue to be announced later today.
"For three-quarters of the game they had every right to be confident, but where they are right now it's going to be very difficult to bring them around. I think it's more a mental challenge."
Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney 1-3 (0-1f), B Sheehan 0-5 (5fs), J O'Donoghue, D Walsh, J Lyne 0-1 each. Cork: P Kerrigan 1-0, C O'Neill 0-3 (1f, 1 '45'), K O'Driscoll, D O'Connor (f), Brian O'Driscoll 0-1 each.
Kerry - B Kealy 7; S Enright 8, A O'Mahony 7, M O Se 7; J Lyne 7, P Murphy 8, K Young 7; D Moran 9, A Maher 8; D Walsh 7, B Sheehan 7, J Buckley 5; J O'Donoghue 7, K Donaghy 6, P Geaney 8. Subs: M Geaney 7 for Buckley (29), C Cooper 7 for Donaghy (44),S O'Brien 5 for Sheehan (57), BJ Keane for P Geaney (62), P Galvin for Walsh (66), P Crowley for Young (68).
Cork - K O'Halloran 8; M Shields 6, J O'Sullivan 7, J Loughrey 7; Brian O'Driscoll 8, S Cronin 7, M Collins 8, Barry O'Driscoll 5; A O'Connor 6, K O'Driscoll 6; P Kelly 7, D O'Connor 6, P Kerrigan 7; C O'Neill 7, B Hurley 5. Subs: F Goold 6 for D O'Connor (47), C Dorman 6 for K O'Driscoll (54), D Goulding for Kelly (59), T Clancy for Barry O'Driscoll (66), J Hayes for Hurley (67).
Ref - M Deegan (Laois)