Monday 26 February 2018

Eoin Liston: Twin terrors of James O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney key to Kingdom title tilt

Paul Geaney and Kieran Donaghy
Paul Geaney and Kieran Donaghy
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

As I left Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday, someone reminded me that it was 1979 the last time Kerry completed five Munster titles in a row when they also beat Cork.

And this was the also the biggest final win in Killarney over our fierce rivals since 1982. Kerry's management will care little for such statistics; their focus will remain firmly on the present.

Kingdom followers will be giddy, naturally, after a wonderful display of attacking, inventive and clinical football but Eamonn Fitzmaurice knows that his side will need to step it up even more the next day.

It's a good place to be because if Kerry can build on this display, then their summer promises to deliver a real statement of their intent to regain the All-Ireland crown from Dublin.

For if Kerry can play this well, or even step it up a notch or two, they are capable of beating anyone.

But we need to be realistic as well; five or six of the Dublin subs are good enough to get on this Kerry team so that remains the bar they must aspire towards.

But we have a chance now and, aside from the champions, I can only see Tyrone as a serious challenger to win Sam.

Kerry's intent was obvious from the off, four points in as many minutes showcasing an astonishing array of skills and a dazzling display of movement that the Cork players simply could not deal with.

We have sadly not seen enough of James O'Donoghue in recent times after his catalogue of catastrophic injuries but, as he linked up with his twin terror Paul Geaney, we were reminded of the devastating impact these marquee forwards can have on any defence.

From 22 attacks in that first-half, Kerry produced 12 shots from which they created 11 points with one shot saved - their first of only three wides all day did not arrive until the 42nd minute, by which stage another four-point blitz in four minutes had the match won.

Kerry's dominance of midfield laid the foundations, winning twice as many kick-outs - 16 to eight - as the Cork duo.

The two boys up front ended up with 1-12 between them, ten of their points coming in the hour or so before O'Donoghue was cautiously withdrawn after taking a slight knock to the knee.

What impressed me most was their movement which not only caused havoc for the inside defenders, but also ensured that they were always an option for a consistently high-level of accurate kick-passing inside.

Their link play was integral to it all - they feed off each other and those around them. Kieran Donaghy must have been going well in training, the winter of winning basketball has infused him with renewed confidence.

Given a roaming role of sorts, he typified the team's selflessness by always seeking to find the man in a better scoring position. And so often it was Geaney or O'Donoghue.

There was wonderful variation as they formed an attacking triangle but with each man taking up different positions at different times and, with Cork also unsure as to whether the ball would come in high or low, they were always struggling to cope.

O'Donoghue's point in the 29th minute typified this; Kerry won the ball in defence, Anthony Maher kicked a clever pass out to Donaghy, whose quick hands played a one-two with Fionn Fitzgerald. All done at intense pace and ending with a prime scoring option in a prime scoring position.

You can't win an All-Ireland without marquee forwards but you also need a supporting cast. It would be wrong to call a player like Stephen O'Brien a domestique but his impact from the bench reflected the hunger for places within this panel.

Barry John Keane and Darran O'Sullivan were voracious when they came on too. As a team, they were perhaps guilty of taking the wrong option towards the end but the game was literally up at that stage. Nevertheless, the squad will be reminded of that this week.

In truth, Kerry should have been further ahead at half-time. They gave away some silly fouls and the running game of Ian Maguire and Sean Powter caused them problems at times.

Powter was like a sticky-back on Donnchadh Walsh at times and he couldn't be shaken off. After going 0-6 to 0-1 down after ten minutes, they then out-scored Kerry by six points to five in the next 25 minutes so they really showed bottle.

Kerry's intensity dropped a little but it is virtually impossible for any team to play at full tilt for the entire 70 minutes at championship pace.

Cork won a few kick-outs which sparked them but, in contrast to Kerry, who had gained the buffer by taking all of their scoring chances, Cork couldn't punish them by taking all of theirs.

Maybe you can say this Cork team isn't good enough to win a Munster title but you couldn't say they folded.

They had two goal chances and six wides from their 19 attacks and, if they had been able to work their scorers into position like Kerry, it might have altered the script somewhat.

As it was, they only hit seven points from 15 scoring attempts and that lack of a clinical edge was ultimately the difference. That could have given them momentum.

At least they contributed to a great display of football; it was too warm for a blanket to be seen anywhere in Killarney.

Many expect Cork to just revert to their club championship now but they could take a scalp in the qualifiers if they take the positives out of that first half.

They were just unfortunate to come up against a Kerry with their characteristic confidence and swagger fully evident.

In 1979, as I was also reminded, Kerry beat Dublin in the All-Ireland final. But then you could also ask what happened after winning that 1982 Munster final as well!

Kerry will keep focused on what is happening right now. And right now, the signs are looking very encouraging.

Irish Independent

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