The last thing Paul Murphy needs any reminding off is Kerry’s defensive record of last summer, the All-Ireland football champions conceding just a single goal on route to winning back the title for the first time in eight years.
For Murphy, the former captain restored to the Kerry defence for last weekend’s second game of the Sam Maguire round-robin, denying Cork a goal proved pivotal as much as essential, Kerry winning out 1-14 to 0-15 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Cork chased those goal chances in vain, particularly towards the end. For Kerry, after beating Cork for the 11th time in their last 12 championship meetings, the final game against Louth will likely ensure their preliminary quarter-final unless Mayo go down to Cork, that game also set for a neutral venue.
Murphy didn’t start Kerry’s first round game against Mayo game, coming on at half time for Dylan Casey, Kerry still losing that game in Killarney, their first championship home loss since 1995.
“The immediate reaction is that we’re very happy to have come up here and get a win,” Murphy says of Kerry’s performance. “Two points in it there at the end. It’s fair to say that there’s probably a bit of scar tissue with us and being two points up here, given what happened three years ago, so we’ll take nothing for granted in coming up to Páirc Ui Chaoimh and getting a win.
“That’s the initial reaction. Obviously there were a lot of very good things there and a couple of things that we need to tighten up on a little bit. But we have two weeks now to try and sharpen those bits.”
Conceding the goal to Mayo, replacement Eoghan McLaughlin finishing the job in the second half, after Mayo had several chances in the first, ultimately decided that outcome.
“Shane Ryan had an excellent game against Mayo,” Murphy says of the Kerry goalkeeper. “He probably had three or four excellent saves. Ideally we’d be limiting the amount of saves that Shane has to make any day, so that’s something we take pride in. It wasn’t good enough against Mayo so it’s something we were sharper.”
Still, Cork were hunting for a goal late on, Kerry’s mind focused again after the outcome in Killarney.
“We were disappointed not to win it ourselves,” Murphy says, aware it seems of some of the negative commentary around Kerry’s overall display. “With all due respect we block it out. People could ask me what do I think about what was said by so and so, but you block it out.
“You talk to the guys in the group and you talk to management. You review it that way rather than listening to outside opinions. We were maybe a bit flat on the day but we’ve had two very productive weeks on and off the pitch since. A lot of the things we’ve focused on in the time since then, around tackling and things like that, we got a much better return from them today so we’re pleased with that. No matter what team it is, I think that always settles you down if you can get a few points on the board early. The whole team relaxes a little bit.”
It was said that Kerry ramped up their strategic fouling in the second half, conceding 16 frees to Cork’s seven, many of them in the Cork half of the field.
“I’d say our tackle count was quite high,” Murphy agrees. “There are going to be turnovers every day that you go out, but I think we were a bit more efficient on the ball as well. We didn’t have as many cheap turnovers. They’d probably be the main two things; the pressure on the opposition on the ball and being more efficient when we had it ourselves.
“Cork had half of our half time lead wiped out within 60 seconds. Immediately that changes the game. After that we’d be looking maybe at the number of frees we conceded. Cork were able to chip away with pointed frees and they missed a couple as well, so we probably got off the hook a little bit there too. That’s something we need to cut down on as well.”
Kerry manager Jack O’Connor said Saturday’s game “wasn’t about champagne football” but being “better defensively than we were against Mayo”. Kerry won in that sense too. “We were cut open against Mayo to an alarming degree,” said O’Connor. “Mayo got six goal chances and scored one. I am not sure Cork got any clearcut goal chances, so that was the first thing we had to correct.”
One less thing to worry about against Louth.
All-Ireland SFC round 3
June 17th /18th (Neutral venues TBC)
Kerry v Louth,
Mayo v Cork,
Galway v Armagh,
Tyrone v Westmeath,
Dublin v Sligo,
Roscommon v Kildare,
Derry v Clare,
Monaghan v Donegal