Kerry survive Cork scare to secure Munster title in front of paltry crowd in Pairc Ui Chaoimh
Kerry 1-19 Cork 3-10
Kerry are Munster champions for the 81st time but Peter Keane's team left Pairc Ui Chaoimh with at least as many questions as answers.
In front of 18,265, one of the poorest crowds to watch a Munster SFC final in the last 40 years, Cork came to within a whisker of puling off a major shock. As it was Kerry did just enough to get by.
They roll into the ‘Super 8s' as Munster champions as was widely expected but only after the Rebels delivered a much more stern examination than they had been expected to.
On the positive side for Kerry they dug out a result here when the game might have gone away from them. Paul Geaney's second half sending off meant they had to do it the hard way and in that time the likes of David Clifford and Stephen O'Brien produced some huge moments for Kerry. However defensively they conceded three goals and Cork might easily have added another three as they defence looked open. Kerry won't play against until the weekend of July 13/14 but Keane and Co know they have plenty of work to do.
Some of the stats surrounding Kerry's first half gave the impression that they had put down a good half. They didn't kick a wide in the opening 35 minutes and didn't allow Cork to score a point from play. However, the most pressing issue for Keane is the number of clear cut goal chances Cork created in the opening half.
The Rebels had four clear cut opportunities to raise green flags in the first half. Luke Connolly pulled his shot wide from a tight angle after 16 minutes before Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan denied Ruairi Deane after he tore through the middle of the Kerry defence.
It wouldn't be the first time the Kingdom would look vulnerable at the back.
Connolly finally grabbed a major but Kerry's defence could have done more. A throw up on the 20m line fell to Deane who somehow was unmarked in the Kerry area. He found Connolly who flicked to the net.
Cork badly need that score because Kerry had opened up a 1-5 to 0-1 lead after 13 minutes. They had 1-3 on the board in just eight minutes, with Tom O'Sullivan hammering to the net after Sean O'Shea's barrelling run.
Connolly's goal brought Cork back to within four points and they almost grabbed another goal when Mark Collins was put through. However a brilliant block from Tadhg Morley denied him.
Kerry were much slicker at the other end with David Clifford, O'Shea and Paul Geaney landing fine points to put them 1-10 to 1-4 up at the break. However, given their defensive woes, it felt like Cork were still very much in the shake up.
The second half went along similar lines. Kerry looked good going forward but the looked vulnerable at the back with Cork seemingly convinced a goal was on every time they moved forward.
Sean White helped them cut the gap to three points when they Rebels struck for their third goal. A routine ball on top of Brian Hurley caused havoc. Kerry keeper Ryan came but was beaten to it by Hurley who bought the sides level with his deft flick. The goal had echoes of Diarmuid O'Connor's effort in the league final.
Pairc Ui Chaoimh suddenly came alive with the score but tot heir credit Kerry responded well. First Dara Moynihan clipped over a score before Clifford added his fourth of the day. But if Kerry thought they had steadied the ship then, they were about to ship another body blow when Geaney picked up a black card after an earlier yellow. Kerry were down to 14 men with more than 15 minutes to play.
However, Cork's nerve seemed to deter them and they suddenly turned sloppy and some bad shot selection let Kerry off the hook. The Kingdom pushed themselves four clear when O'Shea clipped over a free.
However, Cork added two points through Mark Collins frees and the Castlehaven man added another as the clock rolled into injury time to cut the gap to the minimum.
However, Kerry found a response once more. Clifford won a vital ball and found sub Micheal Burns who kept his nerve to point. And then O'Shea added another insurance score that helped Kerry into the last eight of the championship while Cork can move into the qualifier with renewed confidence, something that look very unlikely just a few months ago.
SCORERS - Kerry: S O'Shea 0-8 (6f), D Clifford 0-4 (1f), T O'Sullivan 1-1, S O'Brien 0-2, D Moynihan, D O'Connor, P Geaney, M Burns 0-1 each
Cork: M Collins 0-8 (6f), L Connolly 2-0 (1-0 pen), B Hurley 1-0, S White, J Loughrey 0-1 each.
Kerry: S Ryan; P Murphy, T Morley, J Foley; T O'Sullivan, J Sherwood, G White; D Moran, J Barry; D O'Connor, S O'Shea, D Moynihan; D Clifford, P Geaney, S O'Brien SUBS: G Crowley for White (43), M Burns for Moynihan (50), A Spillane for Barry (53), B O Beaglaoich for O'Connor (66), M Griffin for O'Sullivan (68).
Cork: M White; J Loughrey, N Walsh, K Flahive; L O'Donovan, T Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire, K O'Hanlon; P Kerrigan, S White, R Deane; L Connolly, B Hurley, M Collins SUBS: K O'Donovan for Walsh (35), K O'Driscoll for White, M Hurley for B Hurley (both 59), S Sherlock for Connolly (66), A Browne for Taylor (68), S Cronin for Loughrey (69)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)