Tuesday 16 July 2019

Billy Keane: 'Rebels regain pride but Saturday night fever keeps kids at home'


The Kerry squad celebrate Saturday’s success. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Kerry squad celebrate Saturday’s success. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Cork footballers will feel loved again and the Rebel County, famous for ambushing, almost caught Kerry on the hop. No one really gave Cork a chance of winning this Munster final. Not even Cork.

There were two young Cork lads sitting on a wall near the site of Henry Ford's old factory. They were drinking cans of fermented apple juice. One of them said to us: "Hope ye enjoy the training session lads."

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The Cork squad watch the trophy presentation. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Cork squad watch the trophy presentation. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It was as far out as the 47th minute before the crowd let rip with "Rebels, Rebels". Cork fought back in the second half and salvaged their Corkness from the wreckage of the last two finals, when they were beaten so badly we couldn't even slag them off.

Yes, Cork are back. The Cork courage is back. They roughed Kerry up especially at kick-out time. The kick-out press was mostly legal but fierce. Cork waltzed with the Kerry midfield and stopped their runs. The Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan gave a magnificently brainy and accurate exhibition of kicking out. But for young Ryan, who held his nerve all throughout, the Rebels would have won the day.

Cork were at their best when they ran at Kerry. Cork were at their worst when they played the alien lateral passing game.

Before we go back to the football, the story of Kubla Khan's stately pleasure dome must be told. There before us, at the back of the city goal, was the six-domed palace of Xanadu.


I had never seen more gardaí at a Munster final. For a while I thought my old pal, the fiery Billy Morgan, was making a comeback. The big tent was dressed in the Rossies' livery of blue and saffron. The marquee was booked for a DJ party. The thump from the drums rebounded off the sternum. It was boom, boom. The kind of boom boom that gets a teenager's father into a 'will you for feck sake, turn that feckin' thing down' mode.

The GAA women were dressed for the evening chill but the girls on the way to the DJ party in the marquee by the Lee were colourfully and scantily clad.

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There was a time when the only DJ to be seen around here was Crowley. One beautiful party-goer exposed much of her bosom. A Kerryman from up our way said to us: "That girl should be wearing a vest." The two cultures didn't collide. They just passed each other by.

It was cold and the wind that came across from Blackrock village sent several Cork kicks off to our right and wide. For a while it looked like the same old, same old as Kerry's accuracy told early on. Cork missed score after score in the first half but significantly they were making goal chances.

Yes, it was a successful Munster final. Cork won back their lost pride and became rebels once again when they refused to die in an exciting second half. Kerry won the game though. But it was a game.

The crowd was well under 20,000. Last year we gave out here about the fixing of a Munster final on a Saturday night. The Munster Council were not pleased and complained.

Television fixed the game. It was too late for the kids. Most people didn't get to their cars until after 9pm. The road at night is more dangerous than during the day. There are well-populated parts of Kerry and Cork that are far away from the city. I met so many families who were forced to stay at home.

Our Sunday Munster final birthright has been sacrificed. Dublin got to play neighbours Meath on Sunday afternoon, at home. Every GAA move is made to suit Dublin and the primacy of Croke Park.

The Dublin and Meath supporters had their legs under the kitchen table in time for the tea. On Saturday night, Kerry and Cork fans were driving home, tired after a long day's journey. The GAA has lost its way. The GAA did let the kids in for a fiver and I was treated with great courtesy.

This stadium is a thing of beauty. Cork can be rightly proud. There is money owed but such is the quality of the management team, I've little doubt but that the debt will be repaid in full. There was a problem along the left side under the South Stand, up at the city end. Several players slipped several times and one such slip may well have caused an injury to Kerry's Jason Foley.

But Croke Park was slippy too when the new surface was first laid down and the Cork problem is fixable. All Dublin semi-finals and neutral 'Super 8s' games should be played here in Cork.

So where are Kerry after this seventh Munster final win in a row? Kerry have a deadly attack. David Clifford is the best we have seen for a while. He's more than just a skilful player. Clifford lives and breathes the green and gold. When Kerry were down to 14 men, it was Clifford who showed for and won the ball. Then he kicked it over the bar. If Clifford had been born 20 kilometres south, Cork would have won well.

Stephen O'Brien has this little stoop move like as if he's ducking under the middle bar of a gate. Then he's gone by and his man is left wondering. O'Brien runs straight. He takes his scores like a cowboy who can ride a fast horse and shoot at the same time. One of his points though was well wide.

Cork may not agree but ref Anthony Nolan was fair. He did give Cork a penalty and sent off a Kerry player. Nolan lets the game flow and Seán O'Shea was well minded.

The Kerry defence was breached up the middle, time after time. Kerry do not play a stopper or a sweeper. Cork scored three goals and missed three more. The Kerry backs have plenty of football, maybe even too much football. Their primary duty is to mark tight. I would chance Tom O'Sullivan at midfield. He could be the next Michael Darragh.

Yes, Kerry are contenders. We are a shoot-out team. Kerry have so many good forwards it will be impossible to find enough dogs to man-mark each one. Kerry are young and have two tough games played which is a huge plus.

There is work to be done in defence but the raw talent is there. All we need now is a smart defence plan.

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