Kerry survive brave Cork comeback to regain the Munster title
Colm Cooper’s goal proves crucial as Kingdom rule again in Killarney
Kerry’s Colm Cooper celebrates scoring the only goal of the game against Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarne. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Kerry 1-16 Cork 0-17
What fresh lunacy is this? Kerry, we’re told, absolutely hate losing to Cork in Killarney, no matter how countless these Munster football finals have now become.
Yet, after rebelliously blocking Cork out of the game with one hand, they then kindly invited them back in with the other, and in the end very nearly conspired against their own will to win to actually lose it. It made little sense in a game that instead of providing any answers simply raised more questions.
If Kerry were somehow trying to ease off for fear of showboating then it was the best acting ever performed on the football field; if Cork are still trying to find their best 15 players then the merry-go-round looks set to continue. Indeed both managers looked strangely confused afterwards, and weren’t the only ones.
In some ways it was exactly the sort of game Kerry needed, leaving them plenty to work on, although that’s always easier said when the team wins.
For Cork the absolute hate of losing to Kerry to Killarney might not be quite as strong, and they certainly showed up with that attitude. They played the first 35 minutes with no obvious desire to win at all, affording Kerry players acres of space and time, allowing them to build a seven-point advantage by half-time, and then nine points, after 45 minutes.
Still, Cork might well have stolen a draw: Brian Hurley forced one late block from Brendan Kealy, when a goal would have evened it up, and at closing time, Daniel Goulding scored a 45, when maybe a probing ball would have found a more relevant score (although apparently Goulding didn’t realise time was up).
What it all meant is that winning back the Munster football title, which Kerry surrendered to Cork last year, had all the satisfaction of a narrow escape more than a triumphant performance, even though it actually started out looking that way.
Such was Kerry’s dominance in the first 35 minutes that Cork’s strong support – at least half of the 36,370 in attendance – were in danger of searching for the exits well before the end.
Against the positively tropical backdrop of the blooming Reeks, Kerry quickly turned up the heat on Cork, as if it wasn’t hot enough already.
It meant several of the Cork defenders got the literal and proverbial roasting, Eoin Cadogan, Paudie Kissane, and Michael Shields, for starters, all finding it impossible to handle the pace of Darren O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan and James O’Donoghue. Graham Canty eventually ended up there, but by then it was too late.
Worse still for Cork was their complete absence at midfield and naive defending: on repeated occasions Cork left the Kerry forwards all the space they needed – Darran O’Sullivan quickly justifying his selection ahead of Kieran Donaghy, kicking one of Kerry’s 10 first-half points, eight of which came from play.
Conor Counihan, as expected, made three notable changes before the start, Aidan Walsh, Donncha O’Connor and Noel O’Leary taking their place in the match parade, but tactical stunt or not it didn’t work out.
Counihan later revealed that his team had been struck by a mild stomach bug last week, which explained Patrick Kelly’s replacement, but it was only after making some running repairs coming up to half-time that Cork appeared to get their best 15 players on the field.
By then, however, Cork were in serious trouble: Colm Cooper was pulling the strings at centre forward, and was set up himself by Declan O’Sullivan, on 30 minutes, for the first and only goal of the game.
A further point from Galvin, then a long-range free from goalkeeper Brendan Kealy, meant Kerry had eight scorers in the first half alone, and perfectly deserving of their 1-10 to 0-6 advantage at the break.
When Marc Ó Sé waltzed through for a point on 46 minutes, extending Kerry’s leading to nine, it was now or never for Cork, and they responded accordingly.
Alan O’Connor and Pearse O’Neill made the most telling difference with their introduction, and suddenly lording midfield , Cork went on a scoring run, hitting five without reply, the best from another substitute, Ciarán Sheehan.
At the same time Kerry drifted puzzlingly out of the game, with only O’Donoghue rallying, the 23-year-old showing excellent leadership when Kerry most needed it, along with defender Peter Crowley, while Bryan Sheehan also helped steady the nerves when hitting a long-range free with four minutes to go.
It made for a strangely neutral feeling among the two managers afterwards, even the winning one: “We’re happy,” said Eamonn Fitzmaurice, practically forcing the words out.
“We felt we should have pushed on but for some reason we didn’t, and it was too close for comfort at the end.”