IT was poor consolation to Billy Morgan’s team to lose one of the best Munster football finals of modern times yesterday, after captain Derek Kavanagh had the misfortune to waste a goal chance in the last minute of normal time.
Then, with the possibility of another draw looming, Kieran Donaghy dramatically kicked a sparkling lead score before substitute Sean O’Sullivan added another to give Kerry their first home win over Cork in a decider in 21 years.
What made this such an engrossing contest was the impressive recovery staged by Cork after a typical ingenious Colm Cooper goal helped Kerry open up a six points lead 15 minutes into the second half.
Coming after a fairly evenly contested opening first half, it saw the All-Ireland champions take almost complete control for a brief period, during which they scored a goal and five points without reply.
Without question, it looked ominous for the holders, until Donncha O’Connor revived hopes with a well-worked goal after 52minutes. And, following an equalising score from the same player seven minutes later and a further point from each side, the issue hung precariously in the balance until Donaghy’s score broke the deadlock to help make it a winning debut for new manager Pat O’Shea.
Cork enjoyed a wind advantage in the first half which benefited them to the extent that it pushed Kerry a bit back on the defensive. But, in real terms, it wasn’t of much real use for the first 20 minutes for the reason that some good possession was lost through some wild kicking. And this had the effect of starving big full-forward Michael Cussen and leading scorer James Master until there was a significant improvement in the second quarter.
Scores were level in the 9th and 18th minutes before Kevin McMahon put Cork in front for the first time — blazing over the bar when he might have tried for a goal. It was a poor return, at that stage, for a lot of hard work in the defence, with Anthony Lynch prominent on the left flank and the full-back trio holding firm. However, they were helped by the fact that Kerry’s finishing wasn’t the best either.
In man-to-man situations, Kerry’s backs were quite comfortable, with each of the half-backs enjoying the freedom at stages to move up to the attack, with the recalled Fintan Goold the only one of the Cork half-forwards not involved.
Scores were level for the third time before Masters almost got in for a goal after Cussen brought down a high ball from Lynch. But, he fumbled the ball and was then penalised for handling it on the ground.
Nevertheless, while this showed that the Nemo man was starting to make headway against the tenacious Marc O Se, it was newcomer Cussen who stole the limelight in the period before half time.
After Donncha O’Connor had Cork back in front after 22 minutes, he kicked two excellent scores, both coming from superb high catches which exposed the only weakness in Tom O’Sullivan’s play at full-back. In response, Kerry manufactured two points — from Mike Frank Russell, who was very consistent and Donaghy, who was to show up best in the second half. Even more importantly, Cooper showed he had the beating of Kieran O’Connor and also contributed more later when he saw more of the ball.
With Pearse O’Neill proving to be a much more complete player in his second season, Cork held the initiative all the way to the break, when they finished 0-9 to 0-7.
Interestingly, after strong protestations from Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy led to the umpire changing his mind about awarding O’Connor a score from a 38th minute free, Cork went without a score for a further 12 minutes. A pointed free from Russell followed by a punched effort from Cooper (who was really starting to dominate) had Kerry level in the 41st minute and then came Cooper’s goal.
It came from a ball kicked in high by wing-back Killian Young, which both Donaghy and Canty failed to get to, and Cooper turned O’Connor to score with ease. Two minutes later he added another point from a difficult kick and when Russell quickly put over a free Kerry were in total control for the first time.
Declan O’Sullivan almost had the ball in the net in the 50th minute — first-timing the ball off the ground after Tomás Ó Sé had kicked it across the face of the goalmouth. To the credit of stand-in goalkeeper Paddy O’Shea, he made an excellent save, to force the ball over the bar.
Pearse O’Neill, who was behind a lot of Cork’s attacking efforts, provided further assistance when he drifted back, and significant too was the influence of Cussen when he was brought out from full-forward to complement the efforts of Nicholas Murphy, Kavanagh and centre-back Ger Spillane.
Almost as quickly as they had gained superiority, Kerry were now starting to struggle as Cork stormed back with an O’Neill point and an inspirational goal from O’Connor. That came midway through the half, after substitute Conor McCarthy dropped the ball in front of the in-running Kevin McMahon.
Within seven minutes they were level through frees from Masters, won by himself and O’Connor, following another run by O’Neill. As the game reached its most competitive phase, Kerry surged back in front through another well-kicked Russell free from the 50 yards line only for Masters to give Cork renewed hope with a close-in free in the 64th minute.
After that, anything looked possible; first, it looked like Cork would snatch the initiative when Kavanagh won possession at the edge of the goalmouth only to shoot wide on the other side — notwithstanding a clear jersey pull by a Kerry defender.
Either way, it didn’t take Kerry long to grab their first chance of a lead score, through Donaghy, with a powerful kick from far out on the left wing. And, Cork were again out of luck when a McCarthy attempt at a pass saw him give the ball to Aidan O’Mahony — leding to Sean O’Sullivan’s late score.