Tuesday 20 March 2018

Kerry cling on as Cork take too long to call for cavalry

KERRY 1-16 CORK 0-17

Colm Cooper celebrates after scoring his side's goal
Colm Cooper celebrates after scoring his side's goal
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

RARELY will you hear Kerry grabbing back the Munster football crown off the old enemy greeted with such a whimper as it was when the Kingdom bagged their 75th title in Killarney, and understandably so.

RARELY will you hear Kerry grabbing back the Munster football crown off the old enemy greeted with such a whimper as it was when the Kingdom bagged their 75th title in Killarney, and understandably so.

It wasn't just that conditions were as sweaty and suffocating as a Noel O'Leary/Paul Galvin clinch, with some spectators on the terraces even needing medical assistance for over-heating.

It was also because the on-pitch action was, paradoxically, a bit of a damp squib, lacking real Munster final-like passion and intensity, even though Cork almost came back to thieve it at the death after trailing by seven points at half-time and nine 12 minutes later.

In a frightening flashback to two years ago, when Kerry also let slip a nine-point lead, they just managed to hold on thanks to some insurance scores from Bryan Sheehan and wing-back Peter Crowley.

They needed 'keeper Brendan Kealy to pull off a point-blank save from Brian Hurley in injury-time to stop it going into extra-time.

Daniel Goulding opted to point the ensuing '65' when a high ball into the square would surely have thrown the defending champions one final lifeline.

Some judicious substitutions helped Kerry hold on to their 18-year unbeaten record against the Rebels in 'Fortress Fitzgerald' but the absence of whooping and hollering by fans and players alike spoke volumes about the questions it left unanswered.

Among those timely substitutions was Kieran Donaghy, whose benching had drawn Gatland-esque comparisons for manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the build-up.

'Star' put himself about well when introduced but Kerry managed to tear Cork asunder in the first half without him, which vindicated Fitzmaurice's decision to go for speed over stature, but he did not gloat or take umbrage when quizzed about it.


"I don't think it's about being justified," the young Kerry boss stressed. "Kieran contributed when he came in, especially that last kick-out when we needed to get our hands on the ball. He got a great tap-down to Declan which effectively finished the game.

"I'm happy Kerry won and Kieran's happy Kerry won. He barely missed out on selection and I'm sure he'll train hard in the next couple of weeks to try to get back in the starting 15."

Donaghy was sacrificed at the altar of pace and Kerry certainly had that in the first half when Darran O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue, choreographed by Colm Cooper at centre-forward, blitzed the hapless Cork defence.

The Gooch, set up by Declan O'Sullivan, goaled just before the half-hour but O'Donoghue also squandered a gilt-edged chance just before that and they shot eight of their 13 wides by the break, when they led 1-10 to 0-6.

Fitzmaurice was disgusted that their pace then appeared to slow to a crawl and they surrendered their massive midfield dominance.

They didn't score for 18 minutes of the second half when Cork dominated the kick-outs 13-5.

"Cork just got momentum," he mused. "When Ciaran Sheehan came in he caused us problems and they definitely got on top in the middle of the field and over-ran us. There's plenty to work on but we're delighted to get over the line."

Kerry certainly won ugly, with few players outside that forward duo and their midfielders really standing out, though Fionn Fitzgerald caught the eye when introduced and Sheehan was brought in just in time to slot a 60m free when Cork had got it back to within a goal. Cork's dramatic second-half comeback raised as many questions for them as it did the winners and left Conor Counihan's decision-making under scrutiny.

He made a raft of changes before the throw-in (Noel O'Leary, Aidan Walsh and Donncha O'Connor replaced Tomas Clancy, Pearse O'Neill and Paddy Kelly) but Cork only seemed to find their feet and get the ball into Hurley when he made a slew of further introductions, and some of them looked long overdue.

Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane were badly roasted by O'Donoghue and Walsh, Paudie Kissane was dragged out of position by Darran O'Sullivan and that created huge holes in the Cork defence.

It wasn't until they brought in Alan O'Connor and Pearse O'Neill to midfield, moved Canty back to defence, Colm O'Neill up to centre-forward and introduced Sheehan that they got into the game, but no changes were made until just before half-time.


With O'Neill repeatedly running at Killian Young and their midfielders finding Hurley inside, Kerry eventually had to spring Eoin Brosnan to shore up the centre of their own defence.

Counihan wasn't making excuses but explained that Sheehan exacerbated a knee injury recently and that Cork had had a bug in their camp last week that affected them, particularly playmaker Kelly, who saw no action.

But was he not tempted to make some changes much earlier?

"Possibly, but we were saying 'let's stem the tide'," Counihan explained. "You're waiting and waiting and all of a sudden the gap isn't so much.

"It's difficult (to time substitutions right) because you're still hanging in there, thinking let's hold it and see what happens."

Former Antrim and Ulster senior James Loughrey made his Munster final debut for Cork but for a county judged to have plenty of underage talent, surprisingly little of it was given its head yesterday.

Judging either team on this laboured display is difficult and, as the Cork boss concededed, "it's only when teams get to the quarter-final that you'll know how good they are.

"The serious business starts now and I'm hoping Kerry are good because if they are good, we're reasonable enough but if they're not, then we're in a bit of bother too," Counihan said candidly.

Scorers – Kerry: C Cooper 1-3 (0-3fs), J O'Donoghue 0-3, Declan O'Sullivan 0-2, M O Se, P Crowley, A Maher, P Galvin, Darran O'Sullivan, B Kealy, J Buckley, F Fitzgerald (f) 0-1 each. Cork: D Goulding 0-7 (5fs, 1 '65'), B Hurley, J Loughrey, D O'Connor (f) 0-2 each, A Walsh, J O'Rourke , P Kerrigan, C Sheehan 0-1 each.

Kerry– B Kealy 7; P Crowley 7, M O Se 6, M Griffin 7; K Young 6, S Enright 6, T O Se 6; A Maher 8, J Buckley 7; P Galvin 7, C Cooper (Capt) 7, D Walsh 7; Darran O'Sullivan 8, Declan O'Sullivan 8, J O'Donoghue 9. Subs: K Donaghy 7 for Walsh (56), F Fitzgerald 7 for T O Se (58), E Brosnan 7 for Young (60).

Cork – K O'Halloran 7; E Cadogan 4, M Shields 6, P Kissane 7; N O'Leary 5, J Loughrey 7, D Cahalane 4; G Canty (Capt) 6, A Walsh 8; F Goold 5, P Kerrigan 7, J O'Rourke 7; D Goulding 6, B Hurley 7, D O'Connor 6. Subs: A O'Connor 7 for Cahalane (37), P O'Neill 7 for O'Rourke (h-t), T Clancy 6 for Cadogan (h-t), C Sheehan 7 for O'Connor (55), M Collins 6 for Goold (64).

Ref – M Duffy (Sligo).

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