O'Connor relief after 'lucky' escape
IT was one word that echoed the thoughts of an entire Kingdom yesterday evening and it was Jack O'Connor's first word in his after-match press conference: relieved.
Having watched his side let a nine-point (1-11 to 0-5) second-half lead be whittled down to a solitary score, O'Connor would have been forgiven for fearing the worst late on in yesterday's thriller. But the smile on his face after the three-point win said all that was needed to be said.
"It was a game that had a draw written all over it with five minutes to go. We were lucky enough in the end. Cork had a great goal chance. Overall, we played an awful lot of good football in the first half, a bit disappointed with the second half when we only kicked five points," O'Connor said.
Admitting that Kerry struggled when Cork ran at them in that pulsating second half, there were plenty of positives for O'Connor to take from the game but he is keen for his team not to make the same mistakes as last year, as a shock All-Ireland quarter-final exit followed Munster success.
"We had a great day in Pairc Ui Chaoimh last year and a few weeks later we came a cropper in Croke Park. We can't let that happen again. That's the big danger," the Kerry boss explained. "I wouldn't be forgetting about Cork. They will have a big say in the way things go from here on in. I wouldn't fancy getting Cork in the qualifiers. They are a huge, strong team."
That's a view shared by man of the match Declan O'Sullivan who reckons that Cork have the necessary know-how to still be in the shake-up for September honours.
"I think both teams have been around long enough. Cork were beaten in the Munster final last year and it stood to them. We have been beaten in Munster finals before and we haven't panicked, because we have that experience," said O'Sullivan. "For both teams, the goal is to win the All-Ireland. They will see it as a small setback but it won't be fatal."
And O'Sullivan believes Kerry's experience played a key role as they clung to a slender lead late on.
"We just had to keep our heads and not panic. We showed that towards the end as well. We kept the ball. We didn't just hoof it in."
With Paul Galvin and Tomas O Se to come back, the future is looking a lot brighter for Kerry right now but for Cork, attention now turns to the All-Ireland qualifiers, a familiar friend for Conor Counihan's men after last year's scenic route to ultimate September glory.
"We wanted to win Munster. We haven't won it for a couple of years now. Our focus now is on the back door and the All-Ireland," captain Graham Canty explained. "We left way too much to do after a very poor first half. It's very hard to peg back eight points in Killarney."
Cork manager Counihan summed it up: "We may have lost the battle but we haven't lost the war. We would have loved to have won today but the bigger prize is there if we can knuckle down and get our game going again."