THE best of times for Kerry footballers, with the first All-Ireland double in 17 years and notably achieved under different managers, giving Declan O’Sullivan the added distinction of being the first captain from the county to lead two consecutive winning teams since Dick Fitzgerald in the early part of the last century.
And the worst of times for Cork, not merely failing to live up to their semi-final promise, but humiliated in a very poor championship decider which was the last under the Bank of Ireland sponsorship.
Apart from the history of the occasion, the personal triumph it was for popular manager Pat O’Shea, Declan O’Sullivan equalling Tony Hanahoe’s feat in 1976’/77 and both Darragh Ó Sé and Mike Frank Russell each winning a fifth medal since 1997, the game will be remembered primarily for the disaster which befell Cork 27 seconds after the resumption. That was when Kieran Donaghy goaled after dispossessing Ger Spillane (possibly fouling him in the process).
Cork attempted to play the ball across their full-back line and ‘keeper Alan Quirke was to the left of his goal expecting a pass when Donaghy got the ball to kick into an empty net. To all intents and purposes it decided the game there and then because it just tore the heart out of the Cork team and totally deflated their huge support. And, it mattered little that Donaghy scored a second goal 12 minutes later because that merely emphasised Kerry’s superiority.
Cork were extremely competitive for most of the opening half, with scores level three times up to the 15th minute and Kerry not having matters their own way even after man-of-the-match Colm Cooper scored a marvellous opportunist goal two minutes later.
Cork twice led, through frees from James Masters and Donncha O’Connor but after falling behind when Cooper goaled they were never to get nearer than three points for the rest of the game.
It was notable that neither side enjoyed any degree of dominance at midfield until Seamus Scanlon began to blossom at the start of the second quarter and Darragh Ó Sé was more involved. Meanwhile, Nicholas Murphy never really got into his stride and team captain Derek Kavanagh struggled to make an impact.
Kerry gained a definite advantage in the full-forward line after Graham Canty had bettered Kieran Donaghy in the opening exchanges. However, that changed steadily once the Stacks man roamed out from goal to win good possession, while Colm Cooper was causing problems for Kieran O’Connor and Bryan Sheehan moved around to win some good ball.
In the circumstances, it was no surprise to see the Cork formation switched around in response to the mounting threat, which was highlighted in the way Cooper cleverly met a high ball from Scanlon to catch both O’Connor and goalkeeper Quirke off guard.
At the other end, Michael Cussen unsettled the Kerry full-back line with some very good play in the early stages, but he was moved out to the wing after just 10 minutes. And, more pertinently, after he was later moved back to the edge of the square — when he clearly had the beating of Tom O’Sullivan — he was virtually starved of possession.
Pádraig Reidy was bettering James Masters in general play and while Donncha O’Connor made progress here and there, it mattered little because of the way the Kerry backs were controlling the play. And, just as much as Reidy — and Killian Young — were once again proving their mettle on the left flank, Aidan O’Mahony put any lingering doubts about the effect of Seamus Moynihan’s absence to bed with a powerful display which put him a close second to Cooper in the man-of-the-match stakes.
Cork waited until the 27th minute for their first score from play (from Cussen, following four frees) and that lack of firepower was to seriously limit them when the match was there to be won (before late substitute Fintan Goold poached their only goal at the three-quarters stage). Overall it was to be reflected in the grand total of two points from play from the starting 15.
Just before Cussen scored, Donaghy missed a good chance of a goal, when he was given the advantage after a jersey pull and complained to the referee after he put his shot a few feet wide of the near post.
It was 1-6 to 0-6 at half-time, but it could have been different if Cork had not been tactically naive in building up attacks late in the half.
However, their fondness for hand-passing got them into serious trouble on the resumption with Donaghy’s goal. And, followed by four points without reply in the next five minutes, it completely changed the landscape. Certainly, Cork would have been in buoyant mood leaving their dressingroom, but effectively the bottom fell out of a vibrant challenge when they faced a 10 point deficit in the 43rd minute.
That was achieved through their overall dominance, with the likes of Tomas Ó Sé more forceful at half-back, and a high return from a much more productive half-forward line in which Declan O’Sullivan again played a real captain’s part. And, at a general level, they turned over some vital ball through very good tackling.
But, while Donaghy stretched Kerry’s lead to 12 points in the 48th minute (after there was a mix-up between Quirke and Shields) with a second goal, there was absolutely no hope of a Cork revival despite Goold doing well to work his way through for Cork’s only goal shortly afterwards.
Following a minor flare-up, which led to three players being booked, the most memorable feature of the remaining time was a superbly kicked point from Cooper. In a game with so much at stake in terms of prestige, his brilliance was one of the few things to light it up.
* Dave Coldrick applied the rules rigidly from the start and did so consistently for the full game. He could be very well satisfied with his day’s work.
By Tony Leen
WAS Cork’s utter collapse triggered by calamitous individual mistakes, or were those howlers a result of the Rebels’ fragile state of mind. Cork have shipped some demoralising hidings from their greatest rivals at headquarters in recent years, and one suspected when Kieran Donaghy profited from Ger Spillane’s mistake shortly after half-time, that Cork mentally threw in the towel.
After a decent opening – they were level at three point each after 15 minutes – Cork were still within a score of Kerry at half-time, but thereafter it was a nightmare.
DONAGHY’S first goal. The manner of its creation (or presentation, really) was far more than three points on the scoreboard. It still only meant six points between the sides with a full half to play, but Cork then conceded the next four scores before Donncha O’Connor pointed a free.
THE scoreboard doesn’t always take account of the tactical nuances, but while Kerry’s key ploys worked a treat, Cork’s fell flat. Starting James Masters didn’t work – neither did the switch of Graham Canty onto Colm Cooper. Kerry’s switch of Aidan O’Mahony onto Kevin McMahon worked a treat, and Tomas Ó Sé did very well on Pearse O’Neill. Michael Cussen threatened Kerry but never got the delivery. The plan was for Tomás Ó Sé to take Cussen at midfield and for Tom O’Sullivan to handle him closer to goal. Cussen finished with a point.
“HE has more skill and a bigger brain than anyone who has ever played Gaelic football”
— Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony on Colm Cooper
“WE came here with one goal — to win an All-Ireland. But Kerry are a very good team.”
— Cork spokesperson John Corcoran.
BUT for the genius that is Cooper, Aidan O’Mahony would have the rare distinction of being MVP in successive All-Ireland finals. The Rathmore man was astutely returned to his preferred wing-back role yesterday, and while his colleagues were starting nervously, O’Mahony was thundering into the field, and claiming Kerry’s opening point in the 5th minute. Kevin McMahon was seen as one of the Cork danger men, but he was called ashore after 41 minutes. However, Cooper is essentially untouchable; like a bush fire, destroying all in his way. He’s not especially fast, hardly powerful either; instead he relies on being a step, and a second, ahead of everyone else. He is the country’s leading talent and, for all sorts of reasons, it is critical that his rumoured sojourn to Australia is only a brief one.
DAVE Coldrick did well, notwithstanding a few odd, if meaningless, decisions late in the game. He employed his black book intelligently.
THE Kerry players were hardly suited and booted before talk of three-in-a-row began. Whether Darragh Ó Sé will be there for it remains to be seen, ditto Mike Frank Russell. But they will again be on the front row of the grid, starting in pole. Cork? Billy Morgan has removed a lot of the eccentricities from his side, but yesterday was a demoralising experience for all concerned. The team selection was proven to be suspect, and the players did neither themselves nor their coach any justice.