New format, new Kerry management, and a new crop of Kingdom youngsters, but, from a long way out, it was abundantly clear that a familiar result would again materialise.
When half-time Cork sub Jack Cahalane shook the Kerry net with his first touch of the game 24 seconds into the second period, Cork were back on level terms, 1-8 to 0-11. And with the wind behind them, there was a genuine hope the hosts might threaten an end to Kerry’s 30-game unbeaten run at minor level.
But what the visitors produced in response to this Cork declaration of intent - posting, as they did, 3-7 without reply between the 32nd and 54th minute - was nothing short of a masterclass. Instead of allowing Cork catch a whiff of momentum, James Costello’s charges proceeded to expertly kill off this Munster round-robin game as a contest, their movement, vision, and razor-sharp foot-passing time and again slicing open a hapless opposition defence.
The 16-point winning margin, which surpasses the county’s 10-point hammering of Cork in 2017, stretches to 31 games Kerry’s unbeaten run, a period of unstinting dominance which stretches right the way back to August of 2013.
This latest victory over Cork, watched by a crowd of 2,167, leaves the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions with one foot in the provincial decider and, such was the exhibition put on here, it would come as a major upset if they were to be caught by either Clare or Tipperary next time out.
Captain Jack O’Connor had them back in front after Cahalane’s equalising goal, Dylan Geaney following with his sixth of a wet evening on Leeside. Then arrived Kerry’s opening goal, Darragh Lynch and Geaney putting through Emmet O’Shea who would make no mistake from close range. That left the scoreboard reading 1-13 to 1-8. Kerry, it soon transpired, were only warming up.
Goal number two stemmed from a sumptuous Jack O’Connor ball to Gearoid Hassett, the full-forward shirking the close attention of two red shirts to finish past Aaron O’Brien. O’Connor was provider-turned-finisher for their third green flag, the 2018 All-Ireland winner, upon gathering Geaney’s pass, finding the net at the second time of asking.
Embellishing these majors was a string of well-taken points from O’Connor, Hassett, Geaney, and sub Ryan O’Grady. Having opened up a lead of 16 points, the winners could afford to withdraw Joseph Linehan, O’Shea and O’Connor before the finish.
For Cork, Conor Corbett’s 55th-minute point brought to an end their 25-minute wait for a score. Their defence offered little by the way of resistance in the second period, while they were a distant, distant second at midfield.
Kerry were 0-11 to 0-8 ahead at the break and, truth be told, should have been more than three clear turning around for the second period. Among the misses were three goal chances which came and went without the umpire ever reaching for his green flag. Cork ‘keeper O’Brien was equal to Colin Crowley’s drive during the opening minutes, while Hassett will have been disappointed not to have done better with two chances that fell his way.
Kingdom midfielder Linehan was a real thorn in the Cork side early on, proving most troublesome - and, indeed, effective - under O’Brien’s restarts. Bobbie O’Dwyer’s charges found themselves hemmed in for most of the opening 10 minutes, after which Kerry had surged 0-6 to 0-1 clear. The inside pair of Geaney and O’Shea did most of the damage during this period, accounting for all bar one of the visitors’ early flood of scores.
In fairness to the hosts, there was no dropping of the head, with points from Corbett, Ryan O’Donovan (0-3, two frees), and Patrick Campbell (0-2) restoring parity at 0-7 apiece by the 22nd minute.
Rather telling, though, was that at no point in this contest were Cork able to sneak in front.
It might only be early May but what should be of concern for every county in this minor championship is that this latest Kerry bunch look every bit as competent as the five teams who came - and conquered all - before them.
Scorers for Kerry: D Geaney (0-8, 0-2 frees); J O’Connor (0-1 ‘45), E O’Shea (1-3 each); G Hassett (1-2); C Crowley (0-2); R O’Grady (0-1).
Scorers for Cork: R O’Donovan (0-5, 0-3 frees); J Cahalane (1-0); C Corbett, P Campbell (0-2 each).
Kerry: D Burns (Na Gaeil); K O’Sullivan (Cromane), A Dineen (Rathmore), L Chester (Austin Stacks); E O’Sullivan (Legion), A Curran (Austin Stacks), S O’Brien (Beaufort); J Lenihan (Churchill), R Collins (Gneeveguilla); J O’Connor (Beaufort), C Crowley (Templenoe), D Lynch (Listowel Emmets); D Geaney (Dingle), G Hassett (Laune Rangers), E O’Shea (Fossa).
Subs: D O’Callaghan (Firies) for Crowley (48 mins); T Ó hAiniféin (Na Gaeil) for Linehan (49); K Goulding (Ballyduff) for O’Shea, J Kerins (Dr Crokes) for O’Brien (both 53); R O’Grady (Legion) for O’Connor (56); T Cronin (Kenmare) for Chester (56).
Cork: A O’Brien (Mitchelstown); N Jordan (Ballinora), D Peet (Clonakilty), N Gough (Bishopstown); D Cashman (Millstreet), D Lenihan (Castlemagner), J O’Shea (Urhan); E Nash (Douglas), H Murphy (Éire Óg); A Walsh-Murphy (Valley Rovers), P Campbell (Nemo Rangers), D Collins (Glengarriff); K O’Driscoll (Gabriel Rangers), R O’Donovan (Barryroe), C Corbett (Clyda Rovers).
Subs: J Cahalane (Castlehaven) for Nash (HT); S Aherne (Douglas) for O’Driscoll (40 mins); S Andrews (Shamrocks) for Gough (42); A O’Hare (Douglas) for Collins (48); J McGrath (Carrigaline) for Walsh-Murphy (58).
Referee: A Kissane (Waterford).