Saturday 21 April 2018

Craft and graft give Kerry edge

The heart and soul of Kerry football beats as strong as ever just as the experts were prophesying the end of the line for their recent great team.

Despite missing three of their best players -- Paul Galvin, Tommy Griffin and Tomas O Se -- they steamrolled Cork, the All-Ireland champions, into submission to a quite extraordinary degree for the opening 50 minutes and thereafter when Cork did eventually start a rally, Kerry swapped brilliance for plain old hard work and rugged doggedness to thwart their great rivals.

That sort of combination has always served Kerry well, the balance between sheer class and hard graft, and it may well bring them back to the steps of the Hogan Stand next September. This was a very big game for the whole ethic of what Kerry football stands for. They were facing a powerful All-Ireland-winning team, their own followers were worried and the possibility of a hammering was a distinct possibility.

But the Kerry back room played a crucial role in this revival of spirits because they had obviously done a mountain of skill and tactical work on the training ground and it changed a stuttering Kerry team all year into a mean and lean machine.

The work done on fringe players like Darran O'Sullivan, Donnacha Walsh and Shane Enright brought wonderful results and dispelled the notion that when the stars of recent years fade out Kerry will have no adequate replacements.

That will be the day in Kerry football!

Kerry were psyched up yesterday as if they were playing in the All-Ireland final. Their attacking play was spectacular in its simplicity with fast combination play at close quarters that tore the much-praised Cork backline to shreds, in the first half in particular.

The brief switching around between key forwards like Darran O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy and others completely distracted the Cork defenders and the biggest loser here was Graham Canty, who was supposed to be marking Donaghy but ended up being the cause of several scores through hesitation and lack of concentration.

Indeed, Kerry could have been out of sight at half-time, when they led by 1-10 to 0-5, but for five or six very narrow wides. And all this happened yesterday with little or no contribution from Colm Cooper, who had one of those off-days that even the greatest suffer occasionally. The word is that he was carrying a back injury and that seems likely but certainly as the game wore on in the second half Cooper became little more than a passenger.

When he returns to top form, probably in the quarter-final at Croke Park, it will add even more potency to that dazzling attack we all enjoyed watching in Killarney.

Cork did of course stage a second-half rally which saw them outscore Kerry by 1-5 to 0-2 in the final 25 minutes and indeed they had enough chances to at least draw level near the finish, but these Kerry players were in no mood to blow their chances and finished strongly for their three-point victory.

The destruction of the Cork defence will probably most worry Conor Counihan but they do have time to regroup and it will be a surprise if Eoin Cadogan is not a starter the next day.

This was a rough, tough game at times with a lot of heavy physical encounters but Kerry more than paid their way in that regard, which was something a lot of people had not been expecting. Kieran Donaghy has assumed a pivotal role in this Kerry team because of his versatility around the field and at different times yesterday he made major contributions in the full-forward line, in the half-forwards and at midfield -- what a man!

But he was fortunate to escape a red card when his boot made contact with a Cork player and only the sensible refereeing of David Coldrick saved him from disaster.

It would be wrong to state that everything in the Kerry garden is rosy after this game because Cork came storming back after half-time and began to carry the ball through the heart of the Kerry backline, which was then in serious trouble, as they scored 1-3 in 10 minutes. By contrast, Kerry did much better at midfield than had been expected, mainly because both goalkeepers largely abandoned the traditional high kicks into the centre, and the subsequent fragmented play caused by breaking allowed Bryan Sheehan, Anthony Maher and Donnacha Walsh in particular to win a lot of possession which was generally put to good use.

Overall, it seemed Cork were not in the right mood for a game of this importance right from the start. They were tentative and edgy, which allowed Kerry get on a roll early on and build on that for the remainder of the first half. Whether that is a sign of long-term malaise remains to be seen but Cork do not have much time to get their act together if they want to retain the Sam Maguire. Maybe this defeat will shock them into a change of attitude.

Kerry will now be idle for a month which will not help them but the return of yesterday's absentees will act as a great boost and heighten the competition for places for the upcoming quarter-final. We had a spectacular occasion in the brilliant Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday with the Cork following outnumbering the Kerry fans by about four to one. There is no doubt the town of Killarney is the last outpost that stages the Mardi Gras atmosphere that we always get on the Saturday and Sunday when this game is staged. By contrast, other GAA venues look positively boring!

PS: In minor football Kerry and Cork have won the Munster title 53 times out of the last 55 years and the only other county to grab the title, in 1984 and 1995, was Tipperary. So there was great celebration yesterday when Tipp's minors beat Cork decisively to win their sixth title, having beaten Kerry in the semi-final. Many young lads stood out but wing half-back Colin O'Riordan and corner-forward TJ Ryan really excelled on a great day for Tipperary football.

Irish Independent

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