Juniors come good in final quarter to quell Rebels and retain title

Munster Junior FC Final: Kerry 2-14 Cork 1-15

The Kerry players celebrate after retaining the Munster Junior Football Championship title with a two-point win over Cork in Austin Stack Park, Tralee. Photos by Domnick Walsh
The Kerry players celebrate after retaining the Munster Junior Football Championship title with a two-point win over Cork in Austin Stack Park, Tralee. Photos by Domnick Walsh

Paul Brennan

Kerry's dominance of all matters football in Munster continues unabated. After the county retained its senior and minor titles the previous Saturday, it was the juniors turn on the Wednesday evening to claim a fifth Munster title in a row at that grade, and all that before the Kingdom completed the full house, as it were, by capturing the first Under-20 football title to be played for 48 hours later.

The juniors had, arguably, the toughest task of the four teams given that the management had to assemble a whole new team this year after the county won the All-Ireland title in 2017, thereby precluding those winning players from defending that title. To that end manager Jimmy Keane and his selectors assembled a young team, drawing on players with a future ahead of them rather then a past behind them as can sometimes be the formula for inter-county junior teams. Those players certainly repaid Keane's faith in them, with strong performances throughout the team, and there needed to be as Cork brought a team to Tralee well coached and capable of relieving the champions of their title.

Despite Thomas Hickey finding the Cork net after just 27 seconds Kerry actually trailed by a point at half time, 0-11 to 1-7, and the champions were in serious trouble four minutes into the second half when a John Cronin goal and a follow-up free from Jerry O'Connor had Cork five points ahead and looking good to cause a bit of an upset. Nonetheless, Kerry steeled themselves and scored five of the next six scores, with Dan Daly's 44th minute goal the crucial score that levelled matters up and swung the momentum back in Kerry's favour.

Evan Cronin and Michael Vaughan exchanged points to leave it 2-11 to 1-14 with 55 minutes gone, but substitute Cillian Fitzgerald assisted points for Cronin and Chris Farley, before Daly converted a free to push Kerry three ahead. Cork pushed hard for an equalising goal in the four minutes of added on time but the Kerry defence stood defiant and only conceded a late point to Killian O'Hanlon that was of no consolation to the Rebels.

That Hickey goal in the first minute was a portent of good things to come from Kerry but it didn't materialise that way as Cork quickly established themselves, and with O'Hanlon and Brian Terry O'Sullivan enjoying a degree of dominance at midfield over Kieran and Ronan Murphy, the visitors were back on terms, 0-5 to 1-2, after 11 minutes, with Eoghan McSweeney, Seamus Hickey, Jerry O'Connor and Anthony O'Connor (2) raising the flags for Cork. Nine minutes later it was still all square, 1-4 to 0-7, before Jerry O'Connor's free from distance pushed Cork into the lead for the first time.

Hickey and O'Sullivan swapped points before Kieran Murphy and Cork centre back Bary Daly did likewise, with Daly's score coming off the end of a crisp passing move by the Cork forwards. Another converted Jerry O'Connor free put Cork two clear but Hickey's 31st minute point halved the deficit to the minimum at the interval.

If Kerry's goal was lightning fast at the start of the game, Cork's came with just as much alacrity at the start of the second, Jerry O'Connor setting up wing back John Cronin a minute after the restart to place a low shot past Dara Ó Sé to put Cork 1-11 to 1-7 ahead. The Cork supporters in the 1,453 attendance felt a bit better about themselves when O'Connor's 45-metre free made it a five-point game but Kerry haven't dominated this championship at provincial and national level for the last few years for no good reason, even with mostly new personnel on show this time out.

Neither county had played a competitive game in the competition before Wednesday's final but Kerry drew on previous big game experience - they have All-Ireland minor and junior winners in their ranks - and two quick scores from Evan Cronin and Daly (free) had the gap down to three when a Cork score was badly needed to keep their momentum going and confidence high.

Instead Kerry worked their way back into the contest and could even afford to absorb a missed penalty from Hickey in the 41st minute. The always industrious and probing Paudie Clifford drove into the Cork square and was pulled down by Daly but Hickey's penalty was well saved by Chris Kelly, with the Desmonds man getting a second chance at the rebound but kicking wide of the posts.

It seemed then that it might be a costly miss but after a Dan Daly free, Ronan Murphy played Clifford through and his flicked pass across the goal mouth was slapped to the net by Daly to make it 2-10 to 1-13, and that was enough to carry Kerry to victory and into the All-Ireland semi-final where they will play Kildare.

KERRY: D Ó Sé (Ballydonoghue); T Wallace (Ardfert), D Donohue (Spa), P O'Sullivan (Valentia); P Clifford (Templenoe), A Barry (Na Gaeil), S Moloney (John Mitchels); K Murphy (0-1) (Kilcummin), R Murphy (Beaufort); E Cronin (0-5) (Spa), P Clifford (Fossa), L O'Donoghue (Glenflesk); T Hickey (1-2) (Castleisland Desmonds), D Daly (1-4; 3f) (St Mary's), N O'Shea (0-1) (Dromid Pearses). Subs: P O'Connor (Gneeveguilla) for P Clifford (40), C Fitzgerald (Churchill for L O'Donoghue (43), C Farley (0-1) (Dromid Pearses) for N O'Shea (56), B Crowley (Templenoe) for T Hickey (63).

CORK: C Kelly (Éire Óg); P Clancy (Fermoy), P Murphy (Bandon), D O'Regan (St Vincent's); K Cremin (Boherbue), B Daly (0-1) (Newmarket), J Cronin (1-0) (Lisgoold); K O'Hanlon (0-1) (Kilshannig), BT O'Sullivan (0-1) (Garnish); S Hickey (0-2) (Rockchapel), C Vaughan (Iveleary), E McSweeney (0-1) (Knocknagree); J O'Connor (0-5; 4f) (Boherbue), D Dineen (0-1) (Cill na Martra), A O'Connor (0-2; 1f) (Knocknagree). Subs: R Harkin (Mallow) for B Terry O'Sullivan (45), M Vaughan (0-1) (Millstreet) for A O'Connor (48) D Cremin (St Michael's) for J O'Connor (57), C Dennehy (St Finbarr's) for B Daly (57).

Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford)

The Game in 60 seconds

Main man

Several strong Kerry performers including Dan Donoghue, Patrick Clifford, Paudie Clifford and Dan Daly, but in a match were scoring accuracy would be richly rewarded Evan Cronin's five points from play were crucial to getting the champions over the winning line.

Key moment

The three minutes between the 41st and 44th minute that saw Thomas Hickey have his penalty saved smartly by Chris Kelly, when Kerry were four points down, before Dan Daly converted a free and then the same played finished Paudie Clifford's pass to the Cork net to level the score. It was a brief passage of play that catapulted Kerry into a winning position.

Talking Point

With only Kerry and Cork entering the Munster Junior Championship this year it's hard to see a future for this competition in its current format. It seems the only future it has if it morphs into an Under-23 championship, which several counties seem to favour, or there is a national junior championship operated on an open draw system from the start. However, the appetite for this grade of football isn't that well supported across the whole country as it is.