Cork’s three-year wait for a championship win over Kerry - across senior, U20/21, minor, and junior level - is no more.
The sizeable stain on Cork’s copybook that was their failure to better Kerry in a championship fixture since Cian Dorgan’s injury-time point in April of 2016 delivered the Rebels Munster U21 glory has been wiped clean. For Cork didn’t so much as overcome Kerry in this evening’s provincial U20 decider, they obliterated them.
The result was another shot in the arm in this summer of resurgence for Cork football. For the first time in a long while, the Cork minors, U20s and seniors have progressed to the last eight of their respective championships. For this particular group, they are now just one hour from an All-Ireland final appearance. And based on the evidence here, what was a superb team effort where the link-play and running off the shoulder was top-drawer, they will be hard stopped.
Ahead by 0-10 to 0-6 at the break, the hosts raced out of sight when outscoring their opponents by 1-4 to 0-1 between the 34th and 42nd minute. Keith Ricken’s young charges won the second period by 3-5 to 0-6, the bulk of those Kerry points arriving long after the outcome had been decided.
Jack O’Connor’s side, highlighting the extent to which they were outplayed and outmuscled, managed just two points in the 20 minutes after half-time, failing to score from play between the 36th and 55th minute. Of course, it has to be mentioned that the visitors, because of a ruling introduced in recent years, were without the two best U20 footballers in Kerry at the moment, they being David Clifford and Diarmuid O'Connor.
How sorely they were missed for where Cork had leaders in every line, players who were willing to take on their opposite number at every turn, players who were willing to take aim at the posts from the tightest of angles and with little or no space to swing a boot, Kerry, bar full-forward Eddie Horan who kicked three points, had no one capable of sticking their head above the parapet, no player capable of really troubling Cork.
The winners were full value for their 0-10 to 0-6 interval lead, although Kerry will rightly feel they left a goal behind given Horan was twice denied by opposing ‘keeper Josh O’Keefe in a matter of mere seconds.
Cork were superb early on and even though the visiting defence was heavily populated during the opening quarter, the patience of the home side, allied with their near-flawless kicking from distance, meant Keith Ricken’s charges were able to mine seven points in the opening 12 minutes, by which juncture, they led by six.
Their opening score set the tone for the numerous long-range points they would land, Cathal O’Mahony converting a free from outside the 45-metre line. Damien Gore showed a clean pair of heels to Michael Potts for their second, with Colm Barrett and O’Mahony putting three between them after 10 minutes.
Gearoid O’Donovan pulled down the kick-out which followed O’Mahony’s second, the move ending with Mark Cronin throwing over the first of four sublime first-half points. O’Donovan and Cronin also combined for Cork’s sixth, with another monstrous O’Mahony kick completing their opening burst.
The Kingdom, whose long kick-passing game to their inside forwards reaped little dividend, took time to settle. Horan’s second on 14 minutes was their first score in 13 minutes. There dd follow a brace from the lively Fiachra Clifford and Sean O’Leary, but they should have been closer than three (0-7 to 0-4) as Donal O’Sullivan and Clifford wasted chances, the latter a run of the mill free.
Cork finished the half much the stronger, Cronin splitting the posts off either foot. The home support in the crowd of 2,728 knew the evening was theirs when Blake Murphy, sprinting onto a Colm O’Callaghan pass, blasted past Brian Lonergan six minutes into the second half.
O’Callaghan was rewarded for a fine shift when holding off two green and gold shirts to point on the three-quarter mark. It left the scoreboard reading 1-15 to 0-8. This final was fast becoming a rout.
Murphy was finisher turned provider when setting up sub Fionn Herlihy for Cork goal number two and just to rub one further pinch of salt in Kerry wounds after three years of oppression, Cathal O’Mahony smashed home a third green flag a minute into injury-time.
Such is the rising graph of Cork football, it is hard to see it being another three before they upset the neighbours next.
Scorers for Cork: C O’Mahony (1-5, 0-2 frees); M Cronin (0-5, 0-1 free); B Murphy (1-1); F Herlihy (1-0); C Barrett, D Gore (0-2 each); C O’Callaghan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: D O’Sullivan (0-5, 0-4 frees); E Horan (0-3); C Gammell, S O’Leary, F Clifford, P O’Shea (0-1 each),
Cork: J O'Keeffe (Newmarket); P Ring (Aghabullogue), M Shanley (Clonakilty), M O'Mahony (Knocknagree); G O'Donovan (Newcestown), P O'Driscoll (Ilen Rovers), S Meehan (Kiskeam); B Hartnett (Douglas), D O'Connell (Kanturk); C O’Callaghan (Éire Óg), C Barrett (St Finbarr's), M Hodnett (Carbery Rangers); M Cronin (Nemo Rangers), C O'Mahony (Mitchelstown), D Gore (Kilmacabea).
Subs: B Murphy (St Vincent’s) for Hodnett (28 mins); F Herlihy (Dohenys) for O’Callaghan (46); J Murphy (Éire Óg) for Barrett (50); J McCarthy (Carrigaline) for O’Donovan (60); S Hickey (Millstreet) for Meehan (62).
Kerry: B Lonergan (Ballymacelligott); M Potts (Dr Crokes), D Casey (Austin Stacks), D McCarthy (Kenmare); C Gammell (Legion), P Warren (Gneeveguilla), S O'Leary (Kilcummin); J O'Connor (Austin Stacks), B Mahony (St Senan's); A Donoghue (Castleisland Desmonds), K Falvey (Annascaul), S Horan (Scartaglen); F Clifford (Laune Rangers), E Horan (Scartaglen), D O'Sullivan (Kilgarvan).
Subs: C Ferriter (Annascaul) for Falvey (23 mins); N Donohue (Firies) for McCarthy (35); B Friel (Rathmore) for S Horan, C O’Donoghue (Glenflesk) for Casey (both 40); P O’Shea (Kilcummin) for O’Connor (46); P Walsh (Brosna) for Clifford (54).
Referee: A Kissane (Waterford).