The empires strike back. Time was, a summer Sunday that contained Kerry knocking off another Munster title while Kilkenny squared away an umpteenth Leinster would hardly be worth remarking upon. For Kerry, it was a 76th provincial title; for Kilkenny, a 69th. Dog bites man. Man barely notices.
But not this time. The 2014 championship finds both grand old counties in a delicate phase of their existence, enough to make yesterday feel far more giant leap than small step. Where either’s summer will end is a mystery still but there’s no denying their people face into it with increased pep in their step this morning.
Kerry tipped over to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and blessed the old shack's last Munster football final with a performance that would sit comfortably beside the storied ones that went before. They didn't so much beat Cork as undress them, turning in an afternoon of craft and guile that was by a distance more accomplished anything their hosts had to offer. They ran out 0-24 to 0-12 winners in the end, their biggest win over Cork in a Munster final since 1982.
James O’Donoghue was unplayable in the Kerry full-forward line, finishing the day with 10 points against his name, all but two of them from play. Johnny Buckley and Bryan Sheehan were immense, Declan O’Sullivan at times looked like he was trying to pay tribute to Paul Galvin and
by mixing the dirty work of the former with the silken touch of the latter.
It was a triumph too for Éamonn Fitzmaurice, the Kerry manager who again showed himself to be one of the keenest minds in the game when it comes to laying out a gameplan. They move on to an All-Ireland quarter-final now and even if they’re still likely to come up that bit short, they’re not going quietly.
“I’m just delighted for the lads,” said Fitzmaurice. “They have worked ferociously hard all year and at times we didn’t have a level of consistency in our performance. It was nice to put it together today and it was nice to win the game and a Munster cup.
“We figured it would be a very tight game going down the stretch. Kerry-Cork games are traditionally like that. Any time there has been a big margin between the teams in Páirc Uí Chaoimh it’s because Cork have been well ahead of us.
“I did expect a performance because they are a very tight group. There are a lot of leadership qualities in the group. I suppose we hadn’t shown it yet, nationally especially, but I know from seeing the lads week in and week out at training – the way they are, the way they speak, the kind of fellas they are. So it doesn’t surprise me. But I did feel we needed to show it and I think we did show it today.”
Meanwhile in Ulster, Monaghan reached back-to-back Ulster finals for the first time in 70 years with a 1-18 to 1-13 replay win over Armagh in Clones. Conor McManus scored his first ever championship goal in the second half to kick them clear and the All Star corner-forward ended the day with a personal tally of 1-7. They will play Donegal on July 20th, a repeat of last year’s Ulster decider. Look out for low-flying skin and hair.
Routine and surprising
All of which leaves just Kilkenny, whose 0-24 to 1-9 win over
in the Leinster hurling final at Croke Park was routine and surprising at the same time.
Brian Cody’s side carried off the 13th Bob O’Keeffe Cup of his reign and were full value for it. Indeed, when it was put to him afterwards that it was a performance to rank up there with those of their peak years, he saw mischief in the question and parried with some of his own.
“What, are you saying these aren’t our peak years, no?” he smiled. “Ah, I don’t look at things that way at all. Like, what’s peak? You just take each year as it comes and each game as it comes. A peak year is one where you’re in an All Ireland final. We’re just very pleased with the performance, very pleased to win a Leinster title.”
They sally forth now into an All-Ireland semi-final in five weeks, by which time they could feasibly be strengthened even further by players returning from injury.
The empires strike back. Because that’s how empires endure.