Like Lazarus, Cork rise from the dead

 

ALL-IRELAND SFC SEMI-FINAL: Cork 3-7 Kerry 1-13: HAS A a championship crowd at Croke Park ever had greater reason to consider a match over with five minutes left on the clock, by which stage in the previous couple of moves All-Ireland champions Kerry had strode into an eight-point lead?

Captain Tomás Ó Sé on one of his dependable breaks swung over a point and pumped the crowd just before Anthony Lynch, after an energetic afternoon chasing Colm Cooper and holding him to one point from play, was drawn into a foul, which Bryan Sheehan converted into another score.

It looked as if, for all the talk of improvements and greater competitiveness and despite the sending-off of Kerry's eminence grise Darragh Ó Sé at the start of the second half, Cork were heading for one of their usual double-digit spankings in yesterday's GAA All-Ireland semi-final.

Conor Counihan's team will feel they were owed a break in this fixture but surely providence never gets this far into anyone's debt. Then again the serial indignities Kerry had already this decade heaped on their neighbours in the counties' meetings at this venue may have even made the All-Ireland champions uneasy. Extreme sequences like that after all can't go on indefinitely.

And bizarre as it would have appeared to the better-than-expected attendance of 35,137 that's exactly how things were about to turn out. Firstly points from John Miskella and a free from John Hayes reduced the margin - but only in a manner that looked like pure formality.

Then came the sequence straight out of the dreams of every team that goes into the dying minutes six points down. In the 70th minute Michael Cussen, an effective if frustrating afternoon behind him, moved on to the ball out on the right wing and dropped the ball in on the square, either in search of a point or replacement James Masters, who punched the dropping ball through Diarmuid Murphy's legs for Cork's second goal.

The margin down to three, 1-13 to 2-7, the Munster champions tore into the match. Cussen rose in front of goal to win another ball and fed John Hayes whose transfer to Graham Canty, whose work rate around the middle had kept his team hanging on, put the captain through before Aidan O'Mahony's awkward challenge resulted in a penalty decision that had its sceptics. Hayes was an unlikely saviour given his low profile for the preceding 70 minutes but his penalty was a model of calm dispatch, sending Murphy to his right and the ball to his left.

There was still time to win the match but it was Kerry who nearly did it but Killian Young's shot came off the post and fell wide. That was it and Cork supporters celebrated as if they had won the three-in-a-row that Kerry are currently chasing.

One of the many strange things about yesterday's match is that despite what happened in the closing minutes this was as bad a performance as Cork had contrived on any of the previous occasions and as comfortable a demonstration of Kerry's superiority.

The growing irrelevance of teams named during the week was demonstrated when both sides made alterations before the throw-in. Canty started in place of Masters and John Miskella replaced Brian O'Regan. Kerry for their part dropped Pádraig Reidy and brought in Tommy Griffin at full back, allowing Tom O'Sullivan some respite from the attentions of Cussen.

The big Cork full forward at times appeared to be his team's sole attacking stratagem and although Griffin stuck to the task, Cussen still won a good share of ball. Supply wasn't always great and even when it was serviceable too often, especially for most of the second half, there was no supporting player showing for the ball.

Kerry hit their stride early and dominated breaking ball around the middle. The full-forward combination of Kieran Donaghy and Cooper was menacing throughout. Like Kerry, Cork were using a centrefielder, Derek Kavanagh, to counter the big, retro number 14 - in Donaghy's case the original of the species. Kavanagh's not new to this thankless task and it must have been with a sense of relief that he was assigned out-the-field duties and Donaghy duly followed after Ó Sé's dismissal.

Apart from a slight revival before half-time, after Nicholas Murphy had been brought in for centrefielder Alan O'Connor, Cork were outplayed in the first half. Two things kept them afloat: Kerry's wildly inaccurate shooting and an opportunist goal carved out of a Cussen possession and good support running from Pierce O'Neill, ending with Goulding shooting to the net for 1-1 to 0-2 lead.

Within seconds the goal was answered. A sloppy free allowed Kerry attack immediately and Donaghy knocked the ball down to Cooper whose return ball was nudged home by the full forward's head.

Given the flow of the game - Alan Quirke saved smartly from Tommy Walsh and Donaghy was unlucky not to be awarded a penalty - it was borderline miraculous that Cork made the break just a point behind, 1-4 to 1-5.

The second half produced more of the same and by the time of Cork's late intervention they had lost the 32 minutes after the interval by 0-8 to 0-1. Darragh Ó Sé was red carded by referee Joe McQuillan for striking O'Neill but as he left, as often happens it was the supposedly punished team that stepped up a gear.

As the margin widened on the scoreboard with points from Walsh, Sheehan's frees, and later additions from replacements Eoin Brosnan and Darren O'Sullivan it seemed to make little difference that Donncha O'Connor was also red-carded for a foolish slap at Aidan O'Mahony, to which the Kerry man reacted in the dispiriting modern fashion of toppling over as if shot.

The expectation last night was that the replay will form part of a double bill with next week's second semi-final between Tyrone and Wexford at Croke Park, but this had yet to be confirmed.

CORK: 1 A Quirke; 2 D Duggan, 3 D Kavanagh, 4 A Lynch; 6 G Spillane, 18 J Miskella (0-1) , 7 K O'Connor; 8 A O'Connor, 9 P O'Neill; 10 D O'Connor (0-4, two frees) , 17 G Canty, 12 S O'Brien; 13 D Goulding (1-0) , 14 M Cussen, 15 J Hayes (1-1, goal from penalty and point a free). Subs: 22 N Murphy (0-1) for A O'Connor (21 mins), 11 J Masters (1-0) for Goulding (44 mins), 29 K McMahon for O'Brien (47 mins), 19 M Shields for Spillane (59 mins), 20 N O'Leary for K O'Connor (59 mins).

Yellow cards : McMahon (48 mins), Cussen (53 mins), Lynch (66 mins).

Red card : D O'Connor (50 mins).

KERRY: 1 D Murphy; 2 M Ó Sé, 21 T Griffin, 3 T O'Sullivan; 5 T Ó Sé (0-1) , 6 A O'Mahony, 7 K Young; 8 D Ó Sé, 9 S Scanlon; 12 D Walsh, 13 Declan O'Sullivan, 10 B Sheehan (0-4, three frees and 45); 11 C Cooper (0-3, two frees), 14 K Donaghy (1-1), 15 T Walsh (0-2). Subs: 17 E Brosnan (0-1) for D Walsh (half-time), 19 Darren O'Sullivan (0-1) for T Walsh (56 mins), 18 S O'Sullivan for Declan O'Sullivan (68 mins).

Yellow cards : D Walsh (16 mins), O'Mahony (20 mins), Sheehan (42 mins), Cooper (43 mins), T Ó Sé (62 mins).

Red card : D Ó Sé (39 mins).

Attendance : 35,137.

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).