Wednesday 21 March 2018

The Couch: Free-flowing and fizzing football finished by Fitzgerald

Mark Collins was involved three times in Cork's 67 seconds goal
Mark Collins was involved three times in Cork's 67 seconds goal

Tommy Conlon

Moments that caught the eye from last Sunday's thoroughly entertaining Munster football final, in no particular order.

Michael Shields pops to Barry O'Driscoll and Colm Cooper is rooted to the spot as he foresees, with mounting panic, the appalling vista that's about to unfold. Out of the blue, O'Driscoll is in on goal. The Gooch instinctively raises his arms in alarm. One fancies this is happening in slow motion for him. It's the 64th minute. O'Driscoll (brilliant match), races in and neatly sidefoots the ball home. The Gooch, still stood there helpless, shakes his arms in shock as the Cork crowd erupts. It's a funny moment amid the high-stakes drama.

This goal was 67 seconds in the making. Eight Cork players were involved in the move. Mark Collins was involved three times. They probed, recycled, went forward, went back and went lateral before Shields found another gear, ran direct and Kerry's defence suddenly caved.

The contrast with two Kerry points in the previous 10 minutes is night and day. In the 55th, Marc ó Sé surges out of defence and picks out Cooper with a peach of a ball, the pass of the day, slanted 40 metres straight onto his midriff. Cooper smoothly converts, easy like Sunday morning.

In the 58th, Anthony Maher's 30-metre foot pass bounces perfectly into Paul Geaney. The pass is so good Geaney can wheel his marker in the same motion; he hoists a bomb of a point from long range. Precision, simplicity and economy in both those scores.

But Cork are playing a lot of high-quality football too. The 67-second move for the goal is atypical on the day. They're moving the ball with more speed and penetration than in recent years. Only once, around the 31st minute, do they revert to old habits - a 46-second move of ponderous, pointless circumnavigation.

Colm O'Neill's goal in the ninth is a length-of-the-pitch move: ball carried at pace out of defence; Alan O'Connor with a low-bouncing 30-metre foot pass into Donncha O'Connor; the latter instantly kicks it on to Collins on the overlap. Now they're near the Kerry endline. Collins conjures a clever dinked foot pass for the arriving Donncha O'Connor; O'Neill shakes off ó Sé with an out-and-in two-step and O'Connor throws it across to him for a simple palmed finish.

It's a top-class move, running, kicking and thinking their way to goal.

ó Sé looks alarmingly isolated on O'Neill in that first half. But the great Kerry veteran is quicksilver as ever. He is masterful on O'Neill in the first quarter. (Joe Brolly at half-time: "Marc ó Sé is not a corner-back, he's a ball-watching half-back." In fairness, an heroically stupid comment.)

Cork have packed their defence and blocked the channels into James O'Donoghue. It works for a good half hour. Then O'Donoghue comes to life with a flashing score. This is Kerry's purple patch, an unanswered four-point salvo before half-time.

Donncha O'Connor stops the rot just before the break with an important point from this mature, high-calibre forward.

His goal after half-time is an improvised flick over the 'keeper who, caught in no man's land, has helped O'Connor make up his mind. This is Cork's time: 1-4 without reply that is leaving Kerry with frayed minds: David Moran sees black for a body check off the ball; Kieran Donaghy is lucky only to see yellow for a neck-high pulldown on Eoin Cadogan.

It's notable how seldom Kerry manage to feed Donaghy with diagonal balls from the wings. Instead they're lumping it in on top of him. Cadogan lacks a few inches on him - doesn't every full-back - but he's made of the right stuff. Cork have leaders popping up now all over the field and he is one of them.

Bryan Sheehan isn't losing his head; he staunches the Cork surge with an elegant strike from out on the right that sails between the posts.

O'Donoghue's penalty finish is immaculate. The match momentum has lurched again. With nine to play, Kerry are two up. But they've played in spasms. And Cork are palpably playing with more guts and heart.

O'Driscoll puts the ball in the net; Cooper puts his hands in the air; the fat is in the fire.

It's a cauldron now and in the cauldron, Darran O'Sullivan races onto a ground ball and tries a luxury chip-up on the run. The Cork backs devour him and Kerry's management presumably, in the nicest possible way, are fucking him into knots on the sideline. We're thinking: Darran, you should have bent your back for that ball, not least because you haven't too far to bend.

Kerry lump another big one in on Donaghy. Geaney is first to the break and a goal looks inevitable. There's the game for Kerry, right there. Cork's 'keeper steps up with a spreading block; the ball ricochets across the face of an empty net.

On 71, Colm O'Neill has a '45 to seal it. It's his Larry Tompkins moment. It's his time to hammer the nail. The shot, in truth, lacks all conviction. He's been very good, fizzing with menace and class as the game advances. But really, he should have clinched that kick. No matter: faced with that situation again, we fancy O'Neill will ice it.

Fionn Fitzgerald's last-gasp equaliser. Is it a bird or a plane? It's a point. It's a draw. It's Killarney or bust next Saturday.

Sunday Indo Sport

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