Kerry survive ... Resurgent Cork let Kingdom off hook
Kerry 1-19 Cork 3-10
Kerry are Munster champions for the 81st time but Peter Keane's team left Páirc UÍ 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 pulling off a major shock. Kerry did just enough to get by.
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They roll into the Super 8 as Munster champions, as was widely expected, but only after the Rebels delivered a much sterner examination than had been anticipated.
On the positive side for Kerry, they dug out a result 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 the likes of David Clifford and Stephen O'Brien produced some huge moments for the title holders.
However, Kerry conceded three goals and Cork might easily have added another three as the Kingdom's defence looked open. Kerry won't play again until the weekend of July 13/14, but manager Peter 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 performance - they didn't kick a wide and didn't allow Cork to score a point from play. However, the most pressing issue for Keane is the number of clear 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 goal but Kerry's defence could have done more. A throw-up on the 20-metre line fell to Deane who somehow was unmarked in the Kerry area. He found Connolly who flicked to the net.
Cork badly needed that score because Kerry had opened up a 1-5 to 0-1 lead after 13 minutes. They had 1-3 on the board after 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 netted another when Mark Collins was put through. However, a brilliant block from Tadhg Morley denied him.
Kerry were much slicker at the other end with Clifford, O'Shea and 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 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, then the 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 brought the sides level with his deft flick. The goal had echoes of Diarmuid O'Connor's effort in the league final.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh suddenly came alive with the score but, to their credit, Kerry responded well. Dara Moynihan clipped over a score before Clifford added his fourth of the day.
But if Kerry thought they had steadied the ship, they were about to suffer another body blow.
Geaney picked up a black card after an earlier yellow, and Kerry were down to 14 men with more than 15 minutes to play.
However, Cork's nerve seemed to desert them. They suddenly turned sloppy and some bad shot selection let Kerry off the hook. The Kingdom pushed themselves four points clear when O'Shea clipped over a free.
However, Cork added two points through Mark Collins frees and the Castlehaven man added another - to cut the gap to the minimum - as the clock rolled into injury-time.
However, Kerry found a response once more. Clifford won a vital ball and found sub Micheal Burns who kept his nerve to point.
O'Shea added another insurance score that helped Kerry into the last eight of the championship while Cork can move into the qualifiers with renewed confidence, something that looked 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 Ó 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)
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