Kerry leave Cork bewitched, bothered and bewildered in the Killarney heat

Peter Keane’s side send out a statement of intent with 22-point win in Munster final

Kerry 4-22 Cork 1-9

A beautiful day for sightseeing in the Kingdom but the locals only had eyes for the famous football field in the middle of Killarney in the hope of catching a glimpse of the next All-Ireland champions.

They saw enough to please them. Kerry are moving through the summer at increasing velocity. They claimed their 82nd title by inflicting an historic defeat on their old rivals in a day of punishing heat. The 22-point difference eclipsed the 1977 hammering delivered in Fitzgerald Stadium and deepened the fear that it will take some time before any kind of equilibrium returns to this southern tradition.

The black joke was that Kerry fired their eye-watering total on an afternoon when David Clifford, as prolific a scorer as the Kingdom has ever raised, was held to a single free. The tight, disciplined marking of Seán Meehan was one of the two consolations of the day for the Cork fans who made the journey.


In truth, Kerry might have used a tougher contest here. They have three weeks to prepare for their meeting with the Ulster champions. A fortnight, as David Moran noted afterwards, might be ideal: that extra week can be a nuisance.

What started out as something fiery and authentic, with a series of mini-scuffles breaking out all over the pitch as the ball was thrown-in, ended as an absolute exhibition of Kerry’s supremacy. The frightening thing for Cork football is that the end score came despite Kerry being in deficit by four by the first water break.

Now: the first quarter of the 2021 Munster final will always belong to Brian Hurley. The Castlehaven man has been through the ringer with injuries so it was great to see his talent flourish here. He hit 1-3 from play during a rich period which was evidence of what Cork have been at since the close of the league.

Their defensive tackling was superb: two clean, punchy turnovers by Kevin Flahive and Mattie Taylor led to a swift counterattack which Hurley marked with a memorable goal. There was nothing Jason Foley could do once Hurley squared the shoulders and ran at him. It was 1-5 to 0-3 after 17 minutes and for a small while the chant of 'Rebels! Rebels!' sounded around Killarney. Of course, the same chant was heard a short while before Pickett's Charge.

Unfortunately, there was another three quarters to go and the heat was unforgiving.

If Kerry don't like the pattern of the game, they simply change its shape. Seán O'Shea moved into full forward. Brian Ó Beaglaoich was dispatched to try and douse Brian Hurley. David Clifford brought the orchestra on the road, with Meehan hitching his wagon to it. Killian Spillane came for the injured Diarmuid O'Connor and brought a new dimension to the attack.

It worked. The second period was all Kerry: they outgunned their neighbours by 1-8 to 0-2, all scores coming from play. O’Shea made light work of three quick chances while Tom O’Sullivan, darting through gaps in the red defence, grabbed two quick scores.

Kerry's goal must have galled Ronan McCarthy as he watched from the sideline: what began as a speculative solo run by Ó Beaglaoich bloomed into a golden chance when he discovered, to his delight, that no Cork man was picking him up. His finish bested Micheál Martin, who had already foiled three Kerry goal shots, including a Howitzer opening blast from Clifford. The half ended with no score from the Fosadh man: instead, he turned provider in a subtle show that must have pleased Peter Keane. Not every day can be the Clifford show.

Things turned black for Cork in the third period: they shipped 3-3 to no score. McCarthy was forced to change goalkeepers at half-time, with Martin injured. And all over the field, the Cork men began to flag. The clean looks they had enjoyed in the opening period were now blocked by attentive, aggressive Kerry men. Every breakdown was punished.

The field had opened up with Kerry men pouring through the gaps. The 38th-minute goal illustrated the key difference between the teams. One minute, Seán Powter was setting up a Cork goal chance after a brilliant strip. Ian Maguire met a meaty shoulder as he lined up his shot. Cork failed to get anything out of the move and were stretched: Kerry got the ball to O'Shea who supplied Paul Geaney and that was that.

Kerry’s fourth originated in an outrageous dash through the middle by Gavin White, who obliterated the Cork cover. The run demanded a major rather than minor return and it was Geaney who scrambled the ball home as Kerry sharp-shooters lined up.

By then, the first quarter seemed to belong to a different country. If Kerry were on some sort of revenge mission for last winter’s shock loss in Cork city, they disguised it well. They were all business here.

Paudie Clifford's superb summer continued unabated: 0-3 from play on an afternoon when he seemed more intent on getting the others – including the brother – involved. Jack Barry and David Moran took control of the middle sector as the day wore on and the local faithful responded encouragingly when Tommy Walsh, a survivor of all their splendid yesterdays, contributed to the free-flowing scoreboard in the final quarter. No slip-ups in Munster, not this year.

KERRY: 1 S Ryan; 3 J Foley, 2 B O'Beaglaoich (1-0), 5 M Breen (0-1); 19 P Murphy, 7 G White, 12 S O'Brien (0-1); 8 D Moran (0-1), 9 D O'Connor; 22 J Barry (0-2), 11 S O'Shea (1-6, three frees), 4 T O'Sullivan (0-2); 14 P Geaney (2-1), 13 D Clifford (0-1, free), 15 P Clifford (0-3)

Subs: 20 K Spillane (0-2) for 9 D O'Connor (18 mins, inj), 21 T Walsh for 12 S O'Brien (45 mins, blood), 17 A Spillane for 22 J Barry (56 mins), 21 T Walsh (0-1) for P Geaney (57 mins), 6 G Crowley for 4 T O'Sullivan (64 mins). 18 T Morley (0-1) for 7 G White (67 mins),

CORK: 1 M Martin; 2 K O'Donovan, 3 S Meehan, 4 K Flahive; 5 C Kiely, 6 S Powter, 7 M Taylor; 8 I Maguire (0-1), 12 B Hartnett (0-1); 10 J O'Rourke, 11 R Deane, 13 L Connolly (0-1); 26 M Hurley (0-1), 14 B Hurley (1-5, one free), 15 D Dineen.

Subs: 16 M White for 1 M Martin (half-time), 23 M Collins for 13 L Connolly (41 mins), 24 C O'Callaghan for 15 D Dineen (43 mins), 21 K O'Driscoll for 26 M Hurley (47 mins), 18 K Crowley for 2 K O'Donovan (51 mins).

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times