Kingdom retain the art of peaking when it really matters


A terrific display by the unsung heroes in Kerry’s defence laid the foundation for victory as Cork are found wanting

BY MY reckoning, Cork needed to win 70 per cent of possession around the middle third to win this All-Ireland final. They came nowhere near this, but the use of what possession they did hold on to showed the fundamental flaws in some of their players, combined with the immense pressure applied by Kerry players like Tomás Ó Sé, Marc Ó Sé and Darren O’Sullivan.

These, and a few more like Séamus Scanlon and Tommy Griffin, are the unsung heroes in the Kerry ranks. These are the men that drove the Cork attacks to the wings and opened the supply lines for the magnificence of Colm Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan and Tommy Walsh to shine through.

It will be difficult for Cork to recover from this but Conor Counihan is a shrewd man and will learn the necessary lessons and convey them to his young team come next season.

That will seem a very long way off for men like Graham Canty, Anthony Lynch and Nicholas Murphy this morning. Men that have soldiered for the cause through so many dark days, normally at the hands of Kerry, now may be facing the end of excellent careers without their ultimate ambition being realised.

One major alteration in their planning will be to peak primarily in August and maintain this to September. The Munster championship title is irrelevant in the modern game.

The exuberance displayed during the Munster championship was absent yesterday. As was the pace and intensity of their play. They went backwards from the Tyrone performance.

I found this surprising as they produced a dream start that they were unable to sustain. Maybe the season was too long for them. Maybe they mistimed matters and simply lacked the legs down the home strait. This can happen to an up-and-coming team.

They feel every game is important and leave it all on the field in July. Kerry, we know, don’t do that. Colm O’Neill’s early goal gave an impression Cork might push on and make it a very difficult day for Kerry.

And then the opposite occurred. What it is that makes it possible for Kerry to turn a game that initially looked lost is nearly indescribable. Some of it is to do with history but the trust and honesty within this current panel is something else again.

Kerry settled into doing the fundamentals of the game to perfection. Cork’s response, in contrast, was error-strewn.

The industry of the full-back line, apart from Tommy Griffin getting caught for the goal, was first class. Scanlon is another who deserves a lot of credit for getting on so much breaking ball.

Further up the field a lot of plaudits must go to Tommy Walsh for the two scores that brought Kerry back into the game.

Cork needed to find another level in the second half but they had so many first-timers in an All-Ireland final. The attacking eight all visibly wilted with nobody posing a genuine scoring threat. Again, it is a credit to the Kerry defence for driving them wide. Any raids down the middle met a Kerry wall, with Mike McCarthy at the heart of it, ensuring Pearse O’Neill became ineffective.

Tadhg Kennelly had a fine game on Graham Canty so I can’t justify why he was substituted at such a critical period. But it worked out. Everything did on the day. Such faith in the bench augurs well for the future as a few of this team will be gone, if not next season then soon. When you are playing well the subs are made look even better. In contrast, the five Cork introductions destroyed their shape and ruined any chance of a vital late goal. Still, Cork kicked too many wides when it mattered and underachieved badly in an All-Ireland final. This is a burden they must carry.

The goal should have given them the impetus to push on but too many players produced inconsistent performances. Poor shooting by Paul Kerrigan from distance was maybe down to a lack of options but, again, the Kerry defence deserves credit. Hit and hope stuff is testimony to a tight-marking full-back line.

The handling errors were inexcusable. Colm O’Neill is a genuine threat to any defence, providing he holds onto the ball. Yesterday he didn’t.

Murphy, Alan O’Connor and O’Neill, for all their height and power, couldn’t keep hold of the aerial ball. Kerry broke possession allowing Paul Galvin and Tomás Ó Sé to dominate on the ground.

This meant it was only a matter of time before the purity of footballers like O’Sullivan, Walsh and Cooper made a telling impact with more economical use of the football. These are totally unselfish footballers. The man in the best position will always get the ball. Trust is a key element.

Appetite is everything in sport. I don’t see this as an end of an era but I cant see Darragh Ó Sé coming back again. This looks the ideal juncture to step away after a glorious career. He contributed in the heat of battle yesterday.

The others should stay on. I would like to see Tadhg Kennelly especially back again as he can become a core leader for the next three seasons. Consider what he has achieved after nine years away from the game?

What we have learned this season is Kerry have retained the rare art of peaking only when it really matters. The management, physios and physical trainers deserve a lot of credit, especially considering it is an ageing team.

Cork must learn this to ever make the next step.