Kerry survive stormy passage

 

ALL-IRELAND SFC SEMI-FINAL REPLAY Kerry 3-14 Cork 2-13: GIVEN THAT it's not possible to be nearly hit by lightning, we can't really say that it almost happened to Kerry twice but with five minutes to go that may well be how it looked to the All-Ireland champions and their manager Pat O'Shea.

Donncha O'Connor, whose participation in this GAA All-Ireland semi-final replay had triggered such controversy during the week, had just provided a clinical finish to some purposeful approach work, which started all the way back in Cork's goalmouth, by hoisting over a long-range point to tie up the match at 2-12 each.

For all the world Kerry's latest loss of an eight-point - at one stage it was nine points - lead looked as if it was going to be fatal. Once again Cork had come up on the rails and caught the champions. Should Kerry go on to defeat Tyrone and rack up the first three-in-a-row of this century they will look back at the 68th minute and a substitution made two minutes earlier as the tipping point.

One aspect of the champions' quality is the ability to provide a watershed moment in a tight match that has taken a menacing turn. Darragh Ó Sé, suspended yesterday and cheered lustily when his face appeared on the stadium's big screens, usually takes care of this sort of business but yesterday it was a younger player, albeit with similarly distinguished antecedents, who took control.

David Moran, son of eight-time All-Ireland medallist Denis, came into a Kerry centrefield that was being cleaned out in Cork's resurgence and caught the kick-out that followed O'Connor's equalising point. His pass to another replacement, Darren O'Sullivan, mobilised Kerry's response.

Moran was in support to provide the wall for a one-two with O'Sullivan, who picked out Colm Cooper and his stiletto finish fatally punctured the Cork comeback and capped a bravura display by the Dr Croke's stylist.

As if to emphasise the wresting of control away from their perpetual rivals, within two minutes Kerry launched one of their familiar keep-ball sequences. The deft needle work was completed in a flourish by Séamus Scanlon, signing off on another very productive display of centrefield graft, whose point framed the final winning margin of four.

Kerry will be really pleased to have got through the most arduous August the county has ever had to put in. Four draining matches have been negotiated and there will now be three weeks' rest and the return of both Darragh Ó Sé and captain Paul Galvin from suspensions before the final test against the county's nemesis this decade, Tyrone, in what will be the first All-Ireland to be decided by two teams that have travelled the qualifier route to the final.

As the last of the provincial champions to remain standing, Cork gave a far more satisfactory account of themselves yesterday than in the drawn match when their blitzkrieg conclusion wiped out 65 minutes of ineptitude. Ironically the last five minutes that had earned them the replay this time ticked by with Kerry making the decisive moves.

The notional selections announced during the week were duly dismantled before throw-in with Cork replacing two-thirds of their half backs, Ger Spillane and Kieran O'Connor, and centrefielder Alan O'Connor in order to start Noel O'Leary, who built on last week's strong performance, the liberated Donncha O'Connor and Nicholas Murphy.

Kerry surprised few by reverting Tommy Griffin to full back and leaving out Pádraig Reidy and Donncha Walsh, while introducing Micheál Quirke in the middle for Griffin and Eoin Brosnan at wing forward for Walsh.

The first half passed as dispiritingly for Cork as it had done a week previously. Kerry were again lording it in the middle, with Cork picking up little clean, first-time possession. Again the champions were gobbling up the breaks and unlike last week there were no outbreaks of irrational inaccuracies - only three first-half wides, one of which wasn't a scoring attempt.

Cork clung on for the first quarter and were within a point or two without having looked particularly threatening. Griffin was eagerly breaking ball away from Michael Cussen, not that the Cork full forward was getting much of a service, and contested ball was being evenly split - a less successful return for Cork than a week previously.

The first significant breakthrough arrived in the 24th minute when Aidan O'Mahony, from his own point of view mercifully lower-key than in the drawn match and resuming his lively tussle with O'Connor, directed the ball into Tommy Walsh, Kerry's most improved forward on the day, who fielded snappily, turned and kept Diarmuid Duggan at bay long enough to get within range of goal before shooting past Alan Quirke for a 1-5 to 0-3 lead.

Moving towards half-time Kerry had remorselessly assembled the same lead that they so mystifyingly blew in the second half of the Munster final, 1-8 to 0-3. In injury-time, however, Cork plugged in the life support.

Cussen, now operating around the middle and helping to even up the contest, spread a perceptive pass out to John Hayes and he moved the ball on to Daniel Goulding, who spirited inside Tom O'Sullivan before crashing in his third goal in successive Croke Park matches against Kerry.

Minutes into the second half and the life support had gone on the blink. Graham Canty, who put in another energetic display around the middle, had been moved on to Declan O'Sullivan. From the restart the Cork captain found himself hotly pursuing his man down the Cusack sideline. He tracked him tightly but a quick exchange of passes with Kieran Donaghy and O'Sullivan had cut into the middle, surged through on goal and delicately slid the ball into the Hill goal. Walsh swiftly added a point for a 2-9 to 1-3 lead.

If the comeback had two phases the first had to be the stifling of Kerry's centrefield supply. Murphy began to do just that and the tide turned. But Cork were being so wasteful with the possession that the prospect of an actual recovery where it mattered - on the scoreboard - appeared remote.

There were calls for a penalty when Donaghy appeared to have been taken down but referee Jimmy White waved play on.

By this stage both of the target full forwards were playing out the field and their essentially improvised markers had the satisfaction of ending the day without conceding a single score - although Derek Kavanagh was red-carded at the very end of the match for hacking at Cooper, an action mercifully at odds with the spirit of a fast-moving second half.

The final quarter saw Cork make real progress. Five unanswered points in 10 minutes cut the margin to four and the tide had turned red. A couple of minutes later Murphy took another clean catch in the middle, moved forward and released Pearse O'Neill on goal and he proved as he had a week ago to have a strong finish in sight of goal.

Another couple of minutes and the sides were level. Having surged up on to Kerry's shoulder Cork looked only a kick from home but getting between the champions and the finishing tape isn't easy.

KERRY: 1 D Murphy; 2 M Ó Sé, 8 T Griffin, 3 T O'Sullivan; 7 K Young, 6 A O'Mahony, 5 T Ó Sé (0-1); 20 M Quirke, 9 S Scanlon (0-2); 10 B Sheehan, 13 Declan O'Sullivan (1-0), 17 E Brosnan (0-1); 11 C Cooper (1-8, six points frees), 14 K Donaghy, 15 T Walsh (1-2). Subs: 19 Darren O'Sullivan for Quirke (50 mins), 18 S O'Sullivan for Sheehan (63 mins), 26 D Moran for Brosnan (66 mins), 21 D Bohane for Walsh (72 mins), 20 M Quirke for Donaghy (72 mins).

CORK: 1 A Quirke; 2 D Duggan, 3 D Kavanagh, 4 A Lynch; 8 G Canty, 5 J Miskella (0-1), 19 N O'Leary; 11 P O'Neill (1-0), 21 N Murphy; 10 S O'Brien, 29 D O'Connor (0-4, two frees), 12 K McMahon; 13 D Goulding (1-7, five points frees), 14 M Cussen, 15 J Hayes (1-1, goal penalty and point a free). Subs: 17 M Shields for Duggan (30 mins), 23 F Goold for O'Brien (ht), 24 J Masters (0-1)for McMahon (43 mins), 25 P Kerrigan for Hayes (49 mins).

YELLOW CARDS: Kerry: T Ó Sé (54 mins), Cooper (55 mins); Cork: O'Connor (23 mins), Lynch (30 mins), Goulding (36 mins). RED CARDS: Cork: Kavanagh (69 mins); Kerry: None.

Referee: Jimmy White(Donegal).