The day Cork won the battle but started to lose the war
Cork's Munster championship victory in Killarney in 1995 heralded the end of Ogie Moran's reign but, after plenty of soul searching, Kerry won eight of the next 10 provincial titles, writes Kieran McCarthy
IT was the final nail in Ogie Moran's managerial coffin. And it hurt like hell, more than any defeat to Cork had done before. And with good reason too, it turned out to be his last game as Kerry manager.
In the weeks leading up to the 1995 Munster final at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Moran was, in many ways, a dead man walking, weighed down by a fatal cocktail of a Kerry side in transition, the final stings of a great Cork team, and the all-enveloping dark cloud that was the Kingdom's famine at All-Ireland level.
By '95, it was eight years and counting. That was eight years too many by any Kerryman's reckoning.
And as Cork and their captain Niall Cahalane left Fitzgerald Stadium -- amazingly Cork have not won a championship match in Killarney since that day -- still in possession of the Munster title, after a deserved 0-15 to 1-9 triumph, the death knell sounded for Moran. His trophy-less three-year tenure was over. It was inevitable.
The ensuing post-mortem left no room for sentiment, as the gloves came off in the Kingdom.
Dara O Cinneide knows this. He was there, in the eye of that Kerry storm.
He had been asked to play left wing-back in that game against age-old foes Cork; it was a move that baffled supporters as the then 20-year-old fresh-faced newcomer was known as a forward. But O Cinneide had previous, having played in the half-back line for his club An Ghaeltacht. That mattered little. When Kerry lost, Moran was rounded on.
"I felt very sorry for Ogie Moran after the '95 Munster final because he took an awful lot of flak for everything. Even playing me as a wing-back was used as a stick to beat him with," O Cinneide explained.
"He was just crucified afterwards. I remember after the game that he was just devastated. That was his last game.
"But the bottom line is that we weren't good enough to beat Cork and we didn't deserve to beat Cork."
It had all started so well for Kerry that Sunday in Killarney, with the iconic Maurice Fitzgerald's early goal sending the hosts into raptures, as they dreamt of ending Cork's provincial dominance -- the Rebels having won six of the previous eight Munster deciders, compared to Kerry's solitary 1991 success.
But then up strode Cork corner-back and captain Cahalane to kick the Rebels' opening score, which settled them down.
And then they kicked on. With Man of the Match Liam Honohan and Daniel Culloty destroying the Kerry midfield -- Moran was also criticised for waiting too long to make the necessary changes there -- Cork just held too many aces for an unfamiliar looking Kerry.
"My point that day was an important score for us," Cahalane explained. "Because Kerry had a whirlwind start and they were a good few points up on us.
"I got on the end of the move and I got our first point. That calmed the nerves."
The fact that the Castlehaven club-man was even on the sacred Fitzgerald Stadium turf that day was a victory of sorts as a cartilage problem in the run-up to the match had him marked down as a serious doubt.
But he played, and he played well, as did the rest of Billy Morgan's team. Interestingly, Kerry also played well, to a point. But O Cinneide's assessment of that game is quite simple: "They were just better than us. We weren't good enough."
Kerry huffed and puffed, but a 10-minute spell in the second half saw Cork romp home, with Colin Corkery helping himself to 0-7, including an inspirational 22nd-minute second-half free that spurred his side on.
"I remember Colin Corkery kicking that great point," recalled O Cinneide, who also said the intensity of that game was like nothing he had ever sampled before.
"Some of the crowd had come out onto the field and Corkery had to go through a few of them to kick his free from the sideline. It was a big free."
It certainly was a massive score for Cork. But still, behind the ensuing public furore in Kerry after the defeat, the truth was that this was a young Kerry team where young blood was being handed its chance, in the guises of O Cinneide, Seamus Moynihan and second-half substitute Darragh O Se. Morgan Nix, at 28, was Kerry's oldest player in that 1995 Munster final.
But Kerry, despite hammering seven goals past Tipperary in the semi-final, still came up short when it mattered.
Moran was the man in the firing line. And it wasn't pretty in the aftermath of that defeat to Cork that ended Kerry's season in July yet again.
"I remember that there was huge pressure on the Kerry team of that couple of years because there was a lot of criticism from former Kerry players, like you have in Meath at the moment," O Cinneide recalled.
"There was a lot of criticism in the newspapers. As a group we were too conscious of what was being said about us. It wasn't helpful. Some of it was justified. We weren't performing.
"There were a few of us from the U-21s in there and I remember thinking, 'We are busting our b***s here trying to get on the team and we don't deserve this criticism'. We weren't responsible for the great teams that went before us and what they achieved. We were just starting off.
"It was quite poisonous what was being written in the local papers at the time. There were plenty of former players coming out of the woodwork giving out about us. It was unhelpful."
While Cahalane and Cork knew that all was not well over the county bounds in Kerry at that particular time, it was of little interest to them.
They weren't peeking over their neighbours' wall to watch what was going on, they were busy trying to win All-Irelands before the final curtain came calling.
"A lot of us were probably coming towards the end of our careers so we had a lot of experience on that Cork team as well as a number of young players that had come through the ranks and slotted in to different positions," explained Cahalane, who sources great pride from that Munster final win in Killarney.
"But people forget that Kerry were coming with a reasonable amount of underage success at that stage. They had a minor success in 1994 and they enjoyed great U-21 success around then as well.
"Cork were better on that day in 1995 but around the next corner was the start of a huge Kerry drive that went on to change everything."
O Cinneide concurs, stating that Kerry's All-Ireland U-21 success in late '95 was hugely significant.
And he played his part in that Kerry renaissance that saw successive All-Ireland U-21 titles return to the Kingdom in '95 and '96, while Paidi O Se's appointment as Moran's successor also had the desired effect, with Kerry finally claiming Sam Maguire in '97, with victory over Mayo.
Nine Kerry players that were involved in the '95 Munster final loss to Cork were on that triumphant '97 side. The famine was over, the bad memories, including '95, were banished. A new era of dominance -- with Kerry winning eight of the next 10 Munster senior titles -- was ushered in.
At the same time Cork's fortunes waned, as the old guard of Cahalane, Larry Tompkins and Brian Corcoran (who decided to concentrate on his hurling career), to name but a few, exited stage left.
That particular Munster final day in Killarney belonged to Cork. But the immediate future was paved in green and gold. It was a watershed moment for both teams, particularly for Kerry.
For example, Darragh O Se, who many believe was introduced far too late to aid Kerry's struggling midfield in the '95 Munster decider, would from the following year be Kerry's No 1 midfielder. Changes were afoot, changes that led to glory for Kerry.
Cork won the battle that day in Killarney but Kerry would go on, with lessons learned, to assume the upper hand in the on-going war.
A historic Cork win, a real momentum-swinger, on Killarney soil on Sunday, however, could change everything again.