Rebels banish Kerry to Sam back roads
CORK will take the high road, Kerry the low road, but will they meet again at a busy junction later in the year?
It has happened frequently since the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers after their Munster championship showdown assigned them alternative routes towards Croke Park.
If it's to be repeated this year, Kerry will need to take their stock value much higher than they managed in Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday when they made life uncharacteristically easy for Cork, who got the basics right, built on them and saw the task through to a successful conclusion.
They will be overwhelming favourites to beat Clare in the Munster final on July 8, whereas Kerry have to head on the grinding qualifier circuit, requiring three wins to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final.
The provincial championships remain the quickest and least demanding route to Croke Park and, since Cork and Kerry were paired to meet in the semi-final this year, it was always going to leave the losers with a long haul.
Consequently, both sides were highly motivated for yesterday's clash, but Kerry were unable to erect the necessary support structure around their determination not to be in the second round of the qualifiers on July 14.
The absence of midfielder Bryan Sheehan turned out to be an even bigger loss than was generally anticipated because not only was his industry badly missed all over the field, Kerry missed three clear chances from placed balls which, in all probability, he would have stroked over the bar.
In Sheehan's absence, goalkeeper Brendan Kealy took over the long-range kicking duties initially, but he hoofed two first half '45s' wide of the target at the Blackrock end, much to the delight of the Cork crowd who were massed behind the goal. Paul Galvin tried his case with a long-range free in the second half, but also drove it wide.
Add in three missed goal chances by Kerry (15th, 30th and 50th minutes) and it suggests that, in different circumstances, they would be now be looking forward to a Munster final.
Cork goalkeeper Alan Quirke blocked all three goalbound shots -- from Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan respectively -- running him close to Donncha O'Connor for the Man of the Match award.
However, that honour went to the Ballydesmond sniper, who kicked 0-6 (0-4 from open play) and also contributed significantly to less glamorous aspects of Cork's busy routine. An impressive streak of enterprise ran right through the Cork attack, which included Nicholas Murphy at full-forward.
He was a pre-match replacement for the injured Pearse O'Neill and turned in a big performance. Ciaran Sheehan, another pre-match replacement for Fintan Goold, who had an infection in his toe, also did well while Paddy Kelly, Paul Kerrigan and Colm O'Neill were all effective too.
In contrast, only Colm Cooper of Kerry's starting six forwards could be remotely pleased with himself. Jack O'Connor began the repair work to attack and midfield at half-time, withdrawing Kieran O'Leary and Seamus Scanlon and replacing them with James O'Donoghue and Johnny Buckley, both of whom impressed.
However, the voltage continued to drop in the Kerry attack and Cork got a huge psychological boost when O'Connor took off Donaghy and Galvin in the final 10 minutes.
Cork powered on to the finish line, outscoring Kerry by 0-4 to 0-1 in that period, thus ensuring that they won both halves. They had started brightly too, popping over three points in the first five minutes before Kerry settled into a rhythm which took them into the lead after 19 minutes.
However, they failed to score for the remainder of the half, whereas Cork scored four points to lead by 0-7 to 0-4 at the interval.
Those missed goal opportunities by Kerry were beginning to look very significant and so it proved.
Quirke's save from Donaghy was especially noteworthy as he stretched full length to get his fingers to the ball from the
"He (Donaghy) came in off his right. It was hard for him to get his shot off, but he managed it and luckily I was able to make the save," said Quirke.
"As Billy Morgan always says, that's what a goalkeeper is there to do."
Perhaps so, but it was still a crucial moment, as was his 50th minute block from Declan O'Sullivan. The shot wasn't particularly well hit, but it was still goalbound until Quirke made a smart save with his feet.
Jack O'Connor remarked afterwards that the game might have taken a dramatic swing if Kerry had converted even one of their goal chances, although one suspects that Cork had plenty more fuel in their large tank if required.
The only period when they looked really uneasy was just after half-time when Kerry pointed twice inside two minutes to cut the deficit to a single point.
Briefly, it looked as if Kerry might raise the stakes in a manner they have done so often against Cork, but Donncha O'Connor intervened with two pointed frees, re-establishing a superiority which the Rebels maintained all the way to the finish.
It was all very satisfactory for Cork as they enjoyed their first championship win over Kerry for three years. Conor Counihan will have some concerns about the manner in which Kerry were allowed to create three goal chances, but, on the plus side, Quirke answered the call, underlining yet again why he is regarded as one of the best stoppers in the business.
As for Kerry, they will be left regretting those missed opportunities. O'Connor will also be concerned by the poor form displayed by most of his attack and by the clear evidence that, without Sheehan, midfield is nowhere nearly as productive as it needs to be.
It now remains to be seen how Kerry react to this setback.
They won the 2009 All-Ireland, having entered the qualifiers in Round 2, so precedent is on their side, but, at this stage there's no way of knowing if the obsession indicator is as high as three years ago.
As for Cork, summer is warming up nicely.
Scorers -- Cork: D O'Connor 0-6 (2f), C O'Neill 0-5 (3f), P Kerrigan, D Goulding 0-2 each, C Sheehan, P Kissane 0-1 each. Kerry: C Cooper 0-5 (3f), Declan O'Sullivan, J O'Donoghue 0-2 each, P Galvin, E Brosnan, Darran O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Quirke 9; R Carey 8, M Shields 7, E Cadogan 7; P Kissane 7, G Canty 7, N O'Leary 7; A O'Connor 7, A Walsh 8; C Sheehan 7, P Kelly 8, P Kerrigan 8; C O'Neill 7, N Murphy 8, D O'Connor 9. Subs: D Goulding 8 for Sheehan (52), B O'Driscoll for Murphy (69), E Cotter for Kissane (73), M Collins for Kerrigan (73).
Kerry -- B Kealy 7; K Young 6, A O'Mahony 6, M O Se 7; P Crowley 6, E Brosnan 7, T O Se 6; A Maher 6, S Scanlon 5; P Galvin 6, Declan O'Sullivan 6, Darran O'Sullivan 5; C Cooper 8, K Donaghy 5, K O'Leary 6. Subs: J Buckley 7 for Scanlon (h-t), J O Donoghue 8 for O'Leary (h-t), P Curtin for Donaghy (63), BJ Keane for Galvin (6),
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)