Michael Shields red card compounds Cork relegation misery
Kerry 0-20 Cork 1-12
News from Castleblayney hadn't been confirmed by the time things came to an end in Tralee. The Cork footballers warmed down and wondered if the axe would fall. It did and, strangely, Farney defender Colin Walshe was the executioner.
Hundreds of miles away in Co Monaghan, Walshe kicked the point that saw them beat Donegal and in turn secure Cork's fate. As news filtered through, faces turned dark and men in red beat a hasty path towards the dressing room.
They needed to take something from Tralee to stay out of the relegation mire and made a good go of it in the second half. There were ten minutes to go when Cork pulled level but that they were so close was almost baffling. Kerry had controlled large swathes of the game but failed to put Cork out of sight, partly through Rebel defiance and partly through their own wastefulness.
When Cork were reeling Kerry in, Ryan Price made a great save from Paul Murphy to keep their hopes alive. A few minutes later, Johnny Buckley was pulled for overcarrying when about to shoot by referee David Gough and it looked harsh.
The Meath official didn't make any new friends in Tralee even if he made some good calls, including disallowing a Barry John Keane point for what looked like a throw over the bar.
But as Cork drew level, one of Kerry's old guard stood up. The ó Sé name runs through these clashes and this time Marc strode forward to restore Kerry's lead. With that score you could almost see the life drain from the Leesiders.
To make matters worse, sub Michael Shields would see red for a high challenge on Michael Geaney. Kerry would also finish the game with 14 men when Geaney himself was black-carded and couldn't be replaced as Kerry had used all their subs.
Kerry would kick five points in the remaining 13 minutes' play to secure a first league semi-final spot since Eamonn Fitzmaurice took charge. Cork would manage just one score from a Daniel Goulding free.
It's quite the fall for the Rebels who were league specialists not too long ago, winning three Division 1 titles on the bounce from 2010-2012.
In one way, they could count themselves unfortunate. Hosts Kerry had previously stayed up on six points and they finished level on that same tally with three other teams this year only for their score difference to put them down.
Selector Eoghan O'Neill admitted the hammering at the hands of Roscommon played a large part in their demotion. "It is kind of funny that the three teams we beat are us and we are the people going down," O'Neill said.
"We are paying the price for one very bad display, in terms of the scoring side of it. That it is the way it is. We have won three games and lost four. Kerry have lost four games and stayed up in recent years. Luck isn't on our side today. The league is over, now. It is done and dusted."
O'Neill stressed that he wasn't making excuses and Cork were miles off the pace for large parts of the first half.
After eight minutes, the teams were tied at 0-2 each but Kerry would take over completely from there.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice's side would hit eight points on the bounce with Kieran Donaghy impressing. Colm Cooper was in the mood too and he clipped over three first-half points as Cork's defensive frailties were laid bare yet again.
They came into the game with the worst defensive record in the division, eight worse off than even winless Down and Kerry looked to exploit that at every opportunity.
Indeed, the Kingdom could have inflicted further damage. Cooper mercifully fisted over the bar when he might have tried to squeeze a shot under Price. Alan Fitzgerald, who looked assured on the frees, also punched a Kieran Donaghy centre wide of the post. Cork went 17 minutes without a score before Colm O'Neill knocked over a free.
It would be the first of an unanswered 1-3 for Cork but even then it felt like they were living on scraps. O'Neill knocked over another free before Brian Hurley scored his second placed ball of the half to cut the gap to six.
Then came Cork's lifeline when the impressive Ian Maguire was unceremoniously hauled down by Peter Crowley.
Referee David Gough decided than the foul took place inside the area and awarded the penalty. Crowley saw black before O'Neill slammed home.
Somehow, Cork trailed by just three points (0-11 to 1-5) having not scored from play.
To their credit, Cork came hard in the second half but Kerry had enough. And Fitzmaurice was pleased with how his panel is developing.
"It's a very transparent policy that the fellas who are playing best in the county are in training with us.
"If they are the best players in training they will get game time either starting or coming on as a sub and once you win games you build on that. That's the criteria.
"I know a good few players have played in the league, well into the 30s which is good, so from that point of view we are happy."
Kerry face Roscommon in this weekend's league semi-final, while Cork won't see competitive action until they face either Tipperary or Waterford in the Munster SFC on June 11/12.
SCORERS - Kerry: C Cooper 0-6 (3f), A Fitzgerald (5f) 0-5, M O Se, M Griffin, F Fitzgerald, D Walsh, S O'Brien, J Buckley, K Donaghy, D Moran (1 '45), B O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Cork: C O'Neill 1-3 (1-0 pen, 3f), B Hurley 0-6 (3f), P Kerrigan, B O'Driscoll, D Goulding (1f) 0-1 each.
Kerr y - B Kealy 7; M O Se 7, M Griffin 7, S Enright 7; P Crowley 6, K Young 7, P O'Connor 6; K Donaghy 7, D Moran 7; J Buckley 8, P Murphy 7, D Walsh 7; S O'Brien 7, C Cooper 8, A Fitzgerald 7. Subs: F Fitzgerald 8 for Crowley (BC, h-t), B O'Sullivan 7 for Buckley (52), BJ Keane 7 for Fitzgerald (55), J Lyne for Griffin (62), M Geaney for Walsh (66), T Walsh for O'Brien (67).
Cork - R Price 8; C O'Driscoll 7, E Cadogan 6, K Crowley 6; D Hazel 6, T Clancy 7, B O'Driscoll 7; K O'Driscoll 6, I Maguire 8; S Kiely 7, P Kerrigan 7, M Collins 6; R Deane 6, C O'Neill 7, B Hurley 7. Subs: J O'Sullivan 6 for Hazel (22), L Connolly 7 for Deane (43), D Goulding 6 for O'Neill (55), M Shields for Cadogan, F Goold for C O'Driscoll (both 62).
Ref - D Gough (Meath)