Monday 11 December 2017

Eugene McGee: Rebels miss their chance

Fionn Fitzgerald kicks the equalising point in the dying seconds of the Munster SFC final in Killarney
Fionn Fitzgerald kicks the equalising point in the dying seconds of the Munster SFC final in Killarney
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

The great Kerryman Con Houlihan often used a phrase in his columns something like "Don't laugh at the crocodile until you have reached the other side of the river".

Wise words indeed, and ones that some Kerry people might remember the hard way - in particular, former star Tomas O Se, who during the week went public to cast serious aspersions on the Cork footballers.

Taking opponents for granted was never the Kerry way in my time but certainly the vast majority of Kerry people seemed to regard yesterday's Munster final as formality on their way to a probable All-Ireland semi-final down the line against the Ulster champions.

Thankfully sport still has the capacity to surprise and Cork certainly did that in Killarney. It was not so much the result as the manner in which Cork went about their business.


They simply tore carefully laid Kerry plans to pieces time after time while maintaining their own pre-game plans at a very high level.

Above all, Cork showed that this team was not going to bow the knee against the All-Ireland champions, and they must be considered very unlucky not to have won this dramatic and high-quality game of football.

Kerry got a very soft penalty - brilliantly converted by James O'Donoghue - and the first Kingdom goal was a result of a comedy of errors by the Cork defence - their only major blunder in the game.

The Kerry defence has been living on borrowed time for a long time now - they conceded nine goals in the League. They were in dire straits time and time again yesterday and but for Cork insisting of removing two of their best forwards back for extra defensive duties in the first half the game night well have been decided at half-time.

Kerry, who took ten minutes to score, had one golden spell before half-time when they scored five successive points in eight minutes and seemed to have an adequate cushion at the break, 1-9 to 1-5.

But within 12 minutes of the second half, Cork had landed 1-5, with just a single point from Donnacha Walsh in reply, and from there on Kerry were merely hanging the divil by the tail. By the 50th minute Mark O Se had been taken off the rampant Colm O'Neill, with Shane Enright put on him.

Ten minutes later Brian Sheehan was taken off, and how costly that proved when near the end O'Donoghue failed badly with a 45.

The departure of David Moran via a black card in the 42nd minute was the most crucial moment of this game because he had been dominating midfield; from there on Cork simply owned the middle of the park and they put it to good use with a goal and two points.

But Kerry showed heart too when they looked like losing. Five different players got a point apiece, and the day was saved when Fionn Fitzgerald landed a brilliant late point. A Kerry finish indeed!

Colm Cooper came on late in the day but look how important his solitary point was at the end. He should be more useful to Kerry in the replay.

But this time there will be no complacency in the Kingdom and Cork will have to raise their game even further to snatch the Munster title.

The replay being in Fitzgerald Stadium will help Kerry but Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his aides will know well that far, far more is required if Kerry are going to retain the Sam Maguire.

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