Cork faith restored as Kerry strike late
Kerry 2-15 Cork 3-12
On a day when the character of this Cork football team was embellished after a bruising few weeks since the League final, it took an act of great courage and nerve from an unlikely source to preserve Kerry's 20-year record of avoiding Championship defeat to their great rivals in Killarney.
Munster SFC Final
Fionn Fitzgerald's equaliser from 40 metres, with the two minutes of added time signalled by referee Padraig Hughes already elapsed, may have had a look of speculation about it as he floated it casually on the breeze, but no one among the 35,651 crowd was in any doubt about the defender's intent.
Having fallen behind for a third time to Barry O'Driscoll's goal more than eight minutes earlier, Kerry drew much relief from Fitzgerald bringing an edgy and most unconvincing period to an end.
It was a fifth Killarney Munster Championship draw between these teams in 14 seasons, following on from the 2002 and 2006 Munster finals and the 2009 and 2010 semi-finals.
But in the context of how Cork have performed on most of their biggest days over the last two seasons the failure to close it out will cut deep. An opportunity lost?
The disappointment was etched on the face and in the voice of Cork manager Brian Cuthbert afterwards.
Unloved and unfashionable in some quarters, routinely ridiculed in others, they threw everything at it in the second-half and, from four points down and playing against the wind, twice put themselves in a position where it looked like they would win.
"I thought we had it," said Cuthbert. "Absolutely delighted with how the players played, the effort, the spirit and heart they showed. There's no such thing as deserving to win matches really but today I felt we had done enough to win."
The manner in which they took the game to Kerry in that second half, running at them and turning their defenders off the platform of a dominant midfield was really encouraging.
But inevitably the award of a penalty to Kerry on 52 minutes will dominate most post-match analysis.
All afternoon Kieran Donaghy had caused quiet havoc on the edge of the square, soaking up all Cork's attention and allowing others to pick gaps off the breaks. And it was off one of these breaks from a Donnchadh Walsh delivery that James O'Donoghue appeared to be pulled down by Mark Collins in a race for possession.
Even Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice didn't seek to fight the tide of public opinion afterwards that it was a 'soft' award. O'Donoghue despatched it coolly and a game that was slipping away from the home side was level, 2-11 each.
Cuthbert didn't seek to sugar-coat his feelings afterwards.
"You probably saw me after the game. From where I was looking, it was no penalty," he said. "If anything it was a free out. Because I thought Mark Collins went for the ball and he got there first. In Gaelic football when you get there first, and if there's a collision, normally it's the guy in control of the ball who gets the advantage.
"Whereas this time... I better not say anymore because the rules are in there but I'm very disappointed."
Kerry kicked on and led by two points, 2-14 to 2-12, three of their subs Colm Cooper, Anthony Maher and Paul Geaney finding their range between the 55th and 61st minutes.
But generally Kerry didn't get the impact off their illustrious bench that they might have expected in the closing quarter.
And fears about the ability of their defence to withstand runners coming against them were well held.
In that sense Barry O'Driscoll was a revelation for Cork from half-back, pouring forward at every opportunity to make incisions with ease.
He served notice in the 30th minute when he punched through off good work between substitute Paddy Kelly and Colm O'Neill (right) to draw a smart save from Brendan Kealy. But he was much more clinical after the break, showing patience to send in Donncha O'Connor for his 38th-minute goal and then finding a gap past Cooper to slot Cork's third goal after Michael Shields had rounded Peter Crowley far too easily on 64. In between he also grabbed a point for a very productive afternoon.
Brothers Brian and Kevin O'Driscoll also penetrated effectively while Alan O'Connor's liking for these big days in Killarney manifested again with another big performance.
Kelly's introduction for the black-carded Paul Kerrigan on 22 minutes also added creativity and direction though it forced Mark Collins to drop back as sweeper in the role that Kerrigan had been operating.
O'Neill enjoyed a compelling battle with Marc O Se throughout. He palmed an early goal and found his range with two second-half points from play but O Se still won a lot of the battles until Kerry opted to switch him with Shane Enright.
Kerry got decent return from their full-forward line. Donaghy didn't get his hands on much ball but so much came off him and his 13th-minute goal, courtesy of Johnny Buckley stripping possession from Shields, had shades of his finish in last year's All-Ireland final.
Barry John Keane and O'Donoghue started slowly but found a groove just before half-time when Kerry were at their best and stretched five points clear, 1-9 to 1-4, before Donncha O'Connor pulled one back just before the break, the critical score in hindsight.
Kerry were never fluent after the break. David Moran was black-carded for blocking Brian Hurley off the ball and while he hadn't been dominant his absence coincided with Cork winning five successive kick-outs and taking a three-point lead.
Brian Sheehan's withdrawal on 60 minutes may also have been premature. His free-taking off the ground was sublime once again and when O'Donoghue was wide of the target with a subsequent 45 (Fitzmaurice revealed afterwards he wanted Kealy to come up and take it but O'Donoghue called it himself) the decision hit home.
That 45 had been forced by a deflection to a Geaney shot that looked goal-bound with Donaghy's presence alone enough to create the opening.
On the question of a test of character being passed after the League final defeat to Dublin, Cuthbert admitted much more was required.
"That's not good enough for Cork, Cork aren't just happy to come to places and perform. Cork want to win things. Over the years we've won seven All-Irelands. Lots of people say that's not enough, but we're not going out of the dressing-room clapping ourselves on the back saying we've performed. That's a basic requirement of coming here.
Fitzmaurice admitted defence is a real concern. "It obviously is if they're scoring goals. We saw what Cork are capable of. We knew that we needed to be at our best and we weren't."
Scorers - Kerry: J O'Donoghue 1-2 (1-0 pen), B Sheehan 0-4 (3fs), K Donaghy 1-0, BJ Keane 0-3 (1f),F Fitzgerald, J Buckley, D Walsh, C Cooper, A Maher, P Geaney all 0-1 each. Cork: C O'Neill 1-6 (0-3fs, 0-1 45), D O'Connor 1-3 (0-2fs), Barry O'Driscoll 1-1, K O'Driscoll 0-2.
Kerry - B Kealy 7; S Enright 7, F Fitzgerald 7, M O Se 8; K Young 7, P Crowley 6, J Lyne 6; D Moran 7, B Sheehan 7; S O'Brien 6, J Buckley 6, D Walsh 6; BJ Keane 7, K Donaghy 8, J O'Donoghue 7. Subs: A Maher 6 for Moran BC (43), C Cooper 6 for O'Brien (43), D O'Sullivan 5 for Buckley (47), P Geaney 6 for Keane (50), J Sherwood 5 for Sheehan (60), P Murphy for Crowley (66).
Cork - K O'Halloran 7; S Cronin 7, E Cadogan 7, J Loughrey 6; Brian O'Driscoll 7, M Shields 7, Barry O'Driscoll 8, A O'Connor 8, K O'Driscoll 8; P Kerrigan 5, M Collins 7, F Goold 5; C O'Neill 7, D O'Connor 8, B Hurley 6. Subs: P Kelly 7 for Kerrigan (22), C Dorman 6 for Cronin (59), R Deane 6 for Goold (60), D Goulding for D O'Connor (61), C O'Driscoll for Hurley (66), J O'Sullivan for C O'Driscoll BC (71).
Ref - Padraig Hughes (Armagh).