Kingdom eventually wear down spirited Cork’s challenge

Flurry of points in the closing quarter secures Kerry’s Munster final spot

Cork 0-11 Kerry 0-23

This was no 12-point game. Kerry were obviously the better side, no ifs or buts or maybes. But they were made to labour for their win and needed to step on the gas down the stretch to assert their bona fides.

They outscored Cork by 0-12 to 0-1 in the closing 20 minutes, brutalising the Cork kick-out and raining down scores from everywhere when it mattered most.

And yet for long stretches, it was a quietly defiant performance from the home side. Cork’s flaws are obvious enough – they can struggle for penetration and they rarely see a problem that turning around to play a 20-yard pass back the pitch won’t solve.


But nonetheless, they were able to conjure up enough tackles and interventions in defence to get the crowd interested and allied this to a day of uncanny accuracy when they did eventually shoot.

It made for a game that Kerry took an age to put manners on. David Clifford and Sean O'Shea were brilliantly-marshalled by Kevin Flahive and Rory Maguire. Seán Powter patrolled the edge of the Cork D with vim and gusto, wiring into tackles and leading the break-outs when he saw fit.

At the very least it made Cork hard to beat, a rare sight in these games over the past decade. As the clock ticked into the 50th minute, they trailed by just a point, 0-11 to 0-10. Nobody had that on their bingo card beforehand.

“I would say we were sloppy with the ball,” Jack O’Connor said afterwards. “We were keeping Cork in the game by turning over the ball in our forward third. We had seven face-up turnovers in the first half – just handpasses going astray, bad options, forcing passes.

“It was a sign we weren’t up to championship pace and I wasn’t surprised by that because five weeks is a long time without a game particularly when you don’t play a challenge game, particularly when you have a share of injuries. I expected lads to be rusty and there was plenty of evidence of that.

“We were expecting a battle and we were almost looking forward to a battle and we got that for long enough to get value out of the game big time. Maybe it was a bit flattering near the end and I don’t think the scoreline does justice to the challenge that Cork put up.”

Throughout the first three-quarters of the game, Cork refused to go away. When Stephen O'Brien, Paudie Clifford and O'Shea wriggled through for a trio of early scores, Stephen Sherlock replied with a monster free from just outside the 45. Kerry were insistent and pushed on with back-to-back frees by O'Shea but Sherlock matched them from a variety of angles at the other end.

By half-time, it all meant a slightly uneasy 0-9 to 0-7 lead for Kerry. Tony Brosnan and the excellent Diarmuid O'Connor added a bit of gloss with late points after Sherlock had levelled on the half hour. But the home crowd still had good reason to cheer Cork off at the break.

Gallop up

All the more so when Cork asserted themselves through the third quarter. Kerry had their cushion – O’Shea was popping his frees with languid regularity. But it looked for a time that they would need every bit of it.

Debutant Cathail O’Mahony landed a couple of booming points from out around the 45, Kevin O’Donovan scuttled forward from corner back to grab one of his own. The younger Clifford was being held at the other end and Cork were the side with the gallop up.

The Kerry manager had seen enough. O'Connor made three substitutions in three minutes, throwing Paul Geaney, David Moran, Paul Murphy all onto the pitch, just the 312 senior games for Kerry between them.

Geaney sniped a point, creating his own space by sending O'Brien off on a dummy run and flicking the score himself. Moran immediately dominated midfield, bludgeoning the Cork kick-out and repeatedly sending Gavin White and Diarmuid O'Connor scurrying into Cork territory.

Bit by bit, Kerry eased clear. O’Shea iced a 45 and ticked along with his frees as the Cork tackling got ever more tired. O’Brien and Paudie Clifford whistled over a couple more as the cover fell off. For a 10-minute period, Cork couldn’t get out of their own half – Kerry rattled off seven points in a row and that was that.

Cork will take plenty from the evening, although injuries to goalkeeper Micheál Martin and Clifford’s tormenter Flahive will leave them down bodies for the qualifiers. But this was a start. For where they are, certainly relative to where Kerry are, it was probably enough.

"We knew facing this Kerry team that if they got a run on you there could be two or three goals and you could be facing an embarrassing defeat," said interim manager John Cleary afterwards.

“I think the very fact it was here in front of the home fans with a great atmosphere and everything like that – everybody inside before the game said we’d work as hard as we can for as long as we can.

"Ian Maguire and Seán Powter probably shouldn't have been out there at all but they led the thing and I think the other lads rowed in behind it. So while well beaten we'd have to be, I wouldn't say happy with the display, but proud with the way the lads put their bodies on the line."

CORK: Michéal Martin; Kevin O'Donovan (0-1), Maurice Shanley, Kevin Flahive; John Cooper, Rory Maguire, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Colm O'Callaghan; Daniel Dineen, Seán Powter, John O'Rourke; Stephen Sherlock (0-6, five frees), Brian Hurley, Cathail O'Mahony (0-3).

Subs: Dylan Foley for Martin (24 mins); Eoghan McSweeney (0-1) for Dineen (56); Damien Gore for Hurley (59); Tadhg Corkery for Powter (60); Brian Hayes for O'Rourke (65).

KERRY: Shane Ryan; Graham O'Sullivan, Jason Foley, Tom O'Sullivan; Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Tadhg Morley, Gavin White; Diarmuid O'Connor (0-1), Jack Barry; Stephen O'Brien (0-2), Seán O'Shea (0-11, eight frees, one 45), Adrian Spillane; Tony Brosnan (0-1), David Clifford (0-3, two frees), Paudie Clifford (0-2).

Subs: Paul Geaney (0-2) for Brosnan (49 mins); David Moran for Spillane (50); Paul Murphy for Ó Beaglaoich (52); Micheál Burns (0-1) for O'Brien (63); Joe O'Connor for Diarmuid O'Connor (67).

Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).