Kerry hit route one to punish lethargic Rebels
KERRY 1-15 CORK 1-12
FIRST blood to Kerry in their annual championship skirmish with Cork but no serious scar tissue for the All-Ireland champions, although one suspects their ears will be reddened by Conor Counihan after he forces them to watch the first 46 minutes of yesterday's final in Killarney.
It made horror viewing for Cork supporters in the crowd of 40,892 and won't look any better for the players when they revisit it on video. Kerry ran them off the pitch in the first half and dominated the early part of the second half too, leaving Cork chasing a nine-point deficit.
Cork won the remainder of the game by 1-5 to 0-2 but Kerry, who went 25 minutes without scoring in the second half, held their nerve and stemmed the tide on the run-in. They conceded no score from the 61st minute and after protecting a one-point lead over the next 10 minutes, they closed the game out with two stoppage-time points, one off a surging run by half-back Eoin Brosnan and the other from sub James O'Donoghue.
It was a deserved victory for Kerry who played some wonderfully adventurous football in the opening half. Inspired by a great save from goalkeeper Brendan Kealy from Paul Kerrigan in the third minute, they dominated all sectors from there to half-time. That included midfield, which had been expected to be fertile ground for Cork. Instead, it was Kerry who won most possession and with Bryan Sheehan driving forward at the defence while his partner, Anthony Maher adopted a holding role, Cork were presented with a puzzle they failed to solve until well into the second half.
With midfield operating productively, the Kerry attack got plenty of good possession and, for the most part, used it wisely, although their shooting could have been a little more accurate. Declan O'Sullivan was the central figure in Kerry's superb attacking play, taking on the Cork defence with pace and power while also spraying clever passes in all directions.
Kieran Donaghy had the beating of Graham Canty; Darran O'Sullivan was imposing his busy style on proceedings and while Colm Cooper had one of his quieter days on the ball, his movement attracted constant attention from the Cork defence, which created extra space for his colleagues.
To add to Cork's problems, their kick-out strategy backfired badly. Alan Quirke's weighted deliveries left and right were too easily read and often ended up in Kerry hands when long deliveries straight down the middle might have been a better option.
It took Cork 12 minutes to score, by which time Kerry had four points, an advantage they extended to five points in the 15th minute when Darran O'Sullivan galloped through at sprint pace before driving the ball to the Cork net.
It was a classic example of how simple, direct football can unhinge any defence if it's done at pace, a lesson which Cork didn't heed for a very long time. Kerry piled on the points in the final 10 minutes of the half to lead by 1-10 to 0-5 at the interval.
Indeed, their margin would have been greater except for a wonderful save by Quirke from Darran O'Sullivan in the 16th minute. Cork had another let-off shortly afterwards when Donaghy's ground shot flew wide from close range.
Cork re-organised their defence at half-time, sending Eoin Cotter in for Jamie O'Sullivan and redeploying Canty in the half-back line but it made no appreciable difference early on. Indeed, Kerry outscored Cork 0-3 to 0-2 in the first 11 minutes, creating the real possibility of a Rebel wipe-out.
However, Cork's proven record for whipping up momentum in the final quarter again came to their rescue as, ever so slowly, they asserted themselves all over the field. Alan O'Connor became the most influential figure around midfield, Paul Kerrigan raised the tempo in attack while Cork's defensive play improved immeasurably.
The comeback was well under way in the 55th minute when Kerry conceded a penalty after Marc O Se was adjudged to have touched a goal-bound drive from Kerrigan on the ground and Donncha O'Connor beat Kealy with a well-placed drive. Six minutes later, the margin was down to a single point when Kerrigan scored his third point.
Kerry looked out on their feet, almost as if the exertions of the first half had taken a heavy toll. However, they clung on and with Cork missing a few good chances, Kerry regained their balance. However, they were very fortunate not to concede what would surely have been the match-turning goal in the 67th minute when Alan O'Connor put John Miskella in on goal, only for the defender to shoot off the upright and wide.
It was to prove a costly miss for Cork as Kerry regained in the initiative to score two late points and retain the Munster title.
In doing so, they became the first county to book in for this year's All-Ireland quarter-finals, thus avoiding the treacherous qualifier waters. Granted, Cork have to win just one game to reach the last eight but there's no doubt that Kerry are feeling much the happier.
They will have Tomas O Se, suspended for yesterday, back for the quarter-finals and may also be able to call on Paul Galvin who missed out with a hamstring injury. He took part in the warm-up but was not brought on.
There will be some concern in Kerry over the manner in which they allowed Cork to overrun them in the final quarter but, up to then, they had looked like a side whose All-Ireland ambitions were based on very solid reality.
As for Cork, they will be pleased with the fightback but have to be worried over the lethargic nature of their performance for 46 minutes. Too many of their players were playing as if they were waiting for somebody else to take responsibility, which was certainly not in keeping with the unity they displayed in last year's All-Ireland drive.
Granted, they did correct it in the second half but ultimately it wasn't enough. Still, they will regard the final-quarter performance as more typical of their personality as a squad. No arguments there, which is why there's every possibility of another Cork-Kerry clash in Croke Park over the next two months. And this time it really will be a winner-takes-all shoot-out.
Scorers -- Kerry: Declan O'Sullivan 0-5, Darran O'Sullivan 1-0, C Cooper (1f) B Sheehan, K Donaghy 0-2 each, K O'Leary, D Walsh, E Brosnan, J O'Donoghue 0-1 each. Cork: D Goulding 0-5 (3f), D O'Connor 1-1 (1-0 pen), P Kerrigan 0-3, C Sheehan, A O'Connor, P Kelly 0-1 each.
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; S Enright 6, M O Se 7, T O'Sullivan 7; E Brosnan 7, K Young 8, A O'Mahony 7; A Maher 7, B Sheehan 7; Darran O'Sullivan 8, Declan O'Sullivan 9, D Walsh 6; C Cooper 6, K Donaghy 7, K O'Leary 5. Subs: BJ Keane 6 for O'Leary (53), M Quirke 5 for Sheehan (56), D Bohan for Enright (63), J O'Donoghue for Darran O'Sullivan (67).
Cork -- A Quirke 7; J O'Sullivan 5, G Canty 6, M Shields 7; N O'Leary 6, J Miskella 7, P Kissane 7; A O'Connor 7, A Walsh 6; C Sheehan 7, P Kelly 6, P O'Neill 7; D Goulding 6, D O'Connor 7, P Kerrigan 8. Subs: E Cotter 7 for J O'Sullivan (h-t), F Goold 6 for Sheehan (41), E Cadogan 7 for Kissane (49), D O'Sullivan for Miskella (70), F Lynch for Kerrigan (71).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)