Key Cork substitutes too late to stop Kerry
Leesiders will still be a factor in this championship as they go through back door
The margin, in the end, was a bit too close for comfort as far as Kerry were concerned and, conversely, left a sense of what might have been for Cork if they had started with the team that finished up on the field. Yet, the truth of the matter is that the better team won and deserved to win in what was a sweltering amphitheatre. The drama did not disappoint.
You can sometimes learn more from losing than from winning. This was one such occasion. Conor Counihan is right to introduce younger players but it is also important to get the balance right and, I believe, the impact made by some of the older generation – when introduced – will make him realise that players like Pearse O’Neill, Alan O’Connor and Ciarán Sheehan (why wasn’t he brought on earlier?) remain vitally important to the team and their ambitions.
There is a big step up from under-21 football to the intensity and pace of senior championship and Cork probably tried to bring in too many of those players too soon.
Reverting to some of the old warriors almost enabled them to pull the game out of the fire, with Sheehan, especially, bringing his aerial ball-winning to the stage when introduced. It was a mistake that he wasn’t brought on earlier and, indeed, that he didn’t start.
Exposed the Cork defence
Of course, such selection decision-making works the other way too and Kerry got it right in the way they set out the full-forward line. Darran O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan and James O’Donoghue were first class as a unit and brought sheer pace to Kerry’s gameplan. The inter-changing and the diagonal running and passing was excellent and exposed the Cork defence time and time again.
It was strange to see Cork struggle so much in the first half. Indeed, Kerry could have been far further ahead by half time such was their dominance and O’Donoghue spurning that goal chance was one of several uncharacteristic misses that could have been costly on another day.
Anthony Maher and Johnny Buckley dominated possession around centrefield and used the ball well. Colm Cooper pulled the strings and the Gooch also showed his class in the manner in which he scored the goal, which only demonstrated Cork’s lack of shape as set out in that first half.
Cork were slow to make the necessary changes. From the start, they got a lot of the match-ups wrong. And when things were going awry in the first half there was a sense of surviving until half time. In fairness, once Counihan got hold of the team in the dressingroom he made key changes, none more so than Sheehan’s second-half introduction.
A consequence of Sheehan’s introduction was that Brian Hurley also came more into the match and I was also very impressed by James Loughrey who made some inspirational runs out of defence.
The heat seemed to have a more draining effect on Kerry as the match progressed. There was simply no way that Maher and Buckley could sustain the effort they put into the first-half performance, which showed how important the bench is in the modern game. It is a 20-man game these days.
Kieran Donaghy, Bryan Sheehan and Fionn Fitzgerald all did very well when brought on. Donaghy’s good work was mainly done around the middle where Cork had established a foothold in the second half. He won kick-outs, turn-over ball and used it intelligently.
This was an important step in Kerry’s development. The management have shown trust and faith in the ability of the younger players to get the job done and they will learn from this and move on with belief in their ability.
As for Cork, they too will learn. And probably more than Kerry. Counihan has to strike the correct balance and that means making a smaller number of changes. Cork will be a factor in this championship and nobody will want to get drawn with them in the back door.