THOUGH Cork failed to build on a dominant opening quarter in Croke Park yesterday and blew whatever chance they had of winning through their wastage of scoring chances in the second half, you have to acknowledge the appropriateness of gaelic football’s aristocrats annexing the All-Ireland title in the association’s 125th year.
Just as Kerry had claimed the Sam Maguire in Centenary Year, Jack O’Connor’s well-drilled team made it title number 36 through the tried and trusted method of imposing themselves on the opposition and succeeding through the combination of individual and team excellence.
And, a victory all the sweeter for players and supporters because of the Rebels having the favourites tag, was highlighted by a number of notable achievements. Apart from becoming only the third county to contest six finals in a row, London-born Darran O’Sullivan created his own bit of history as the winning captain. Additionally, in realising his dream to come home from Australia and win a medal, Tadhg Kennelly’s form over the course of the campaign proved a significant boost for the team – just as Mike McCarthy’s unexpected decision to come out of retirement did.
While the game was a disappointment, there was the promise of a contest worthy of the occasion when Cork enjoyed a blistering start, a classic goal from U21 star Colm O’Neill putting them 1-3 to 0-1 ahead in the 10th minute. It was what the game needed – and what Conor Counihan’s side required if they were to mount the type of challenge expected from them – and typically, it brought the best out of Kerry.
Even before Cork started to lose ground when good covering at the back was spoiled by poor delivery into the forwards, there were signs of Kerry settling and getting into the position of meeting the challenge. Tommy Griffin at full-back quickly got on top against O’Neill and that self-assurance spread through the team. It meant that Cork started to struggle for scores, with Pearse O’Neill in particular making no headway in the centre.
By the 20th minute Kerry had scored four points, with only one in reply. And this was from a free by Donncha O’Connor, who was nearly always playing catch-up against Marc O Se, with brother Tomás outside him even more dominant against an off-form Paul Kerrigan. In contrast, Paul Galvin, on his own, was close to having more of an influence than the entire Cork half-forward line.
And, Kerry were only starting to come good, with Kennelly’s ability to win key possession a double boost in that he was preventing Graham Canty from making an impact. Declan O’Sullivan was proving a major threat at full-forward (marked by late replacement Kieran O’Connor) through his ability to win quality ball.
While Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh were being limited by the vigilant play of Anthony Lynch and Michael Shields respectively, the Kingdom’s attack still had much more to offer as a unit. Their situation improved dramatically over a 10-minute period when they monopolised midfield.
The result was that Cork were thrown back on the defensive and were fortunate (because of Walsh and Galvin wides from good build-up play) to stay in the lead until the 27th minute. That was when Declan O’Sullivan scored, followed by a Cooper free. This came from one of several fouls by Lynch which indicated how much pressure he was under against the Crokes star. Walsh, likewise, was more involved.
Cork went 21 minutes without a score before Daniel Goulding pointed in the 30th minute, at which time their defence was under severe strain – with John Miskella having moved in on Declan O’Sullivan and Canty brought back on Walsh. At the break it was 0-11 to 1-6.
On the resumption, Cork again re-jigged their backline, with Shields being put over on Walsh, Canty returning to the centre and substitute Eoin Cadogan taking up Darran O’Sullivan at left half-back. And Cork managed to lift their challenge with more vigorous play in defence (with Miskella and Noel O’Leary to the forefront) and an improvement at midfield where Nicholas Murphy was prominent.
The net result was that the forwards saw much more of the ball except that their finishing was very poor. Instead of being able to draw level, they conceded scores to Cooper (free) and a more involved Darran O’Sullivan and by the time Donncha O’Connor pointed a 50th minute free, they had run up nine of their second half total of ten wides.
However, just before that, Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy brought off a fine save from a Goulding shot and a few minutes later Goulding had another chance. However he was forced to shoot over the bar after brilliant marking from Tom O’Sullivan stopped him from getting inside him.
Another Goulding point, this time from a free, reduced the margin to a single point in the 55th minute and it was notable that a great block-down on an improved Donncha O’Connor denied them an equaliser.
And, so, when it came to taking the game by the throat when it really mattered, it was Kerry who had the players capable of performing. In a four-minute period they stretched their lead to four points – featured by two marvellous points from Tommy Walsh in the right corner and another from Tomás O Sé to cap an outstanding display.
Effectively they were in control all the way to the finish – except that they looked in danger of conceding a goal when Donncha O’Connor floated a high ball into the unmarked Alan O’Connor in the 65th minute. However, Tommy Griffin made a vital intercept and with it went Cork’s last chance of redemption.
Scorers for Kerry: C. Cooper 0-6 frees; T. Walsh 0-4; T. O Se and T. Kennelly 0-2 each; Declan O’Sullivan and Darran O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Subs for Kerry: D. Walsh for Kennelly (51); K. Donaghy for Darran O’Sullivan and M. Quirke for D. O Se (57); D. Moran for T. Walsh (68); A. O’Mahony for Young (69).
Scorers for Cork: C. O’Neill 1-1; D. Goulding 0-4 (0-2 frees); D. O’Connor 0-3 frees; P. Kelly 0-1.
Subs: E. Cadogan for K. O’Connor (ht; F. Goold for Kerrigan (49); D. Kavanagh for Lynch (58); J. Masters for Goulding (62); M. Cussen for A. O’Connor (65).
Referee: M. Duffy (Sligo).