Saturday 16 December 2017

'Every score was as hard-won as the hand of a big farmer's only daughter'

Twins Jack, supporting Cork, left, and Conor O'Keeffe, supporting Kerry, age 9, from Firies, Co. Kerry, ahead of the game at Fitzgerald Stadium
Twins Jack, supporting Cork, left, and Conor O'Keeffe, supporting Kerry, age 9, from Firies, Co. Kerry, ahead of the game at Fitzgerald Stadium


Kerry kept Cork waiting in the half-time rain. The first-half deluge painted the old grey limestone of St Finian's mental home a sombre blue.

Under the old building where so many tears were shed and so much pain was felt by so many, the canopy of multi-coloured golf umbrellas turned the terrace in to a St Andrews - the very terraces that had been willingly built by the patients as part of their therapy.

We were in under the stand but the outdoor supporters were wet to the knicks, and because it was supposed to be summer, most of Kerry and Cork forgot there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

The kilted Millstreet Pipe Band played in a circle and we wondered if wet bag pipes could be aired in a hot press. We hope the men of Millstreet didn't leave home without putting on at least one pair of underpants.

The half-time talk in around the old ground was if this tight game was to finish up a draw, then the extra-time would have to be played in the dark.


The first half was a pot that never left the boil. Alan O'Connor from Cork stuck his elbows out like a man playing the mouth organ. Kerry were making sure there were no easy routes to goal. It was manly, and a lack of bravery would be found out soon enough.

The players slipped and fell but got up and went at it again. This was no British Open at St Andrew's. There was no time to pick a club or consult with a caddie. Men were harried and harassed at every road block and every score was as hard won as the hand of the only daughter of a big farmer

It seemed as if the only way the warriors could keep their feet on a fast pitch was to fit the players with those stabilisers used to prevent children's bikes from toppling over.

The pace was crazy, with Cork pushing the plays with fast frees. Cork eventually broke Kerry down and Paul Kerrigan's rising shot hit the roof of the net like the snout of a great white shark.

Cork might well gathered an unassailable lead but for Brendan Kealy's save. Kealy stayed up in the air for so long doubters were searching for nearly invisible support wires. Look no further for save of the year or illusion of the year. The betting should be closed now.

It was mighty stuff. Cork and Kerry living up to the old values of do or die and never giving an inch. With a fair bit of skill thrown in on a night when the conditions favoured the backs.

Cork's James Loughrey and Kerry's Shane Enright gave masterclasses on how to defend by sticking to their men like a wetsuit.

Kerry turned the half-time truce in to a tea break. Then he stood up, the brave and impatient Cork man in the middle of the Kerry section. "Come out," he roared as if it was a medieval invitation to joust. Cork have no fear of hunting in ones.

Out Kerry came and they didn't go back in until the job was done.

In that second half Kerry's Paul Murphy was a terrier digging for a lost bone. He was first down on the skiddy ground-ball and showed grit, guts and skill.

Kieran Donaghy won nearly every ball kicked in but when he tried to play he found himself surrounded by at least three Cork men, with a full-forward playing as a sweeper.

It reminded us of the plight the young lad who took the girl of his dreams on a first date only to find her three brothers waiting in the cinema.

Eamonn Fitz took Kieran off. Kieran was isolated as the Kerry forwards were too busy trying to stop Cork attacking from the back. Eamonn got it right but I felt Tommy Walsh was very hard done by. Why wasn't he brought on? Kerry will need him yet.

Cork were on top when The Gooch came on and he, more than any man, knows how to dodge between the drops.

The Kingdom re-won midfield. David Moran was classy and he worked harder than ever before. There was a moment late on when David short-passed near his own goal. On such a bad night it would have been safer to light your cigar with a stick of dynamite. But David was our man of the match. Where would he be got?

Anthony Maher made more tackles than Richie McCaw and it was his high catch that led to the Kerry goal.

And so it was the game was decided by a mix of graft and genius.

Donnchadh Walsh ran forward when his legs must have been jelly, and who else but the Gooch picked him out? Most players wouldn't have noticed the run but The Gooch is blessed with a sort of bird of prey vision that togs out every one of his team-mates in high-viz.

Paul Geaney from the west kicked some great points in the first half and this proven goalscorer finished off the play.

This is no Kerry soft talk. Cork were true to their tradition of fighting to the last. It could have gone either way. Cork should beat Kildare in the next round if they realise the loss to Kerry was only a station on the way to last stop September.

As for Kerry, we are back in the hunt. Improvements are needed but Kerry are an improving team and improvers often win All-Irelands.

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