By John Fogarty
Just 18,265 souls, the worst crowd for a Cork-Kerry Munster SFC final in 36 years, were treated to entertainment if anything else as the challengers gave Kerry their biggest test in four years.
This game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh lacked quality and the naivety from both teams in this slugout was eye-opening, but Kerry will be thankful for the examination in sealing their seventh consecutive Munster title after losing Paul Geaney to a yellow and black card combination in the 54th minute.
However, the question marks about their full-back line grow and the distance between them and Dublin looks greater than this time last year.
For Cork, it was an affirmation to the players themselves that they can compete and their stayaway supporters might think twice now as they are just 70 minutes away from the Super 8. As morale victories go, those against the old enemy are the cheapest of all but they are going in a direction pointing up.
Six points back at half-time, Cork’s directness, especially Mark White’s kick-outs early in the half, rattled Kerry. Killian O’Hanlon’s direct running just two minutes after the resumption was the prime example, Tadhg Morley forcing him down for a penalty, which Luke Connolly despatched expertly. Mark Collins followed it up with his team’s first point from play and the game became a contest.
Cork were honing in on Kerry’s net again in the 46th minute but Ruairí Deane’s shot was a poor choice when a point would have been more than satisfactory. Not to worry, a goal did come seconds later as Brian Hurley got his hand to deflect an Ian Maguire point attempt passed Shane Ryan.
Kerry’s response was good with Diarmuid O’Connor and David Clifford sending over scores only for Geaney to foolishly foul Kevin Flahive for a black card after he and James Loughrey had picked up yellow cards just a few minutes earlier.
A couple of Stephen O’Brien points, the first a questionable one, steadied the ship and a fifth Seán O’Shea point put them four clear. Collins added the next three, two from frees, and Cork were pulling at Kerry’s collar again but Clifford and O’Brien showed leadership in additional time, Clifford assisting Micheál Burns for a point and O’Brien drawing a free for O’Shea.
Much like they succeeded in doing last year, Kerry pressed hard on Cork’s restarts and reshuffled their lines to upset Mark White, the taller Clifford moving out to right-half forward to fill that pocket.
A sense of foreboding fell over the humble home crowd just six minutes in when O’Shea ran strong, drew in defenders and laid the ball onto Tom O’Sullivan to find the net. The sight of back O’Sullivan in the final third was a regular feature of the first half.
Kerry were 1-3 to no score up by the eighth minute when a weak penalty call for Cork was turned down. The build-up was impressive, Connolly finding Collins and he square the ball into the path of Brian Hurley as both he and Tadhg Morley fell to the ground in the parallelogram.
Cork’s shooting early on was dismal and they ended the half without a score from play. They did, however, carve open Kerry several times and had managed three goal chances by the break.
Kerry, though, could have added a second themselves in the 15th minute when Clifford showed some ingenuity to tee up O’Shea but he was unable to get his shot off.
At the other end, Connolly was being his usual mercurial self with some wild shot-taking but after Ryan had to be big to deny Deane a goal he had put in a fine ball to Collins who caught it with Jason Foley. Referee Anthony Nolan blew for a throw-in and while David Moran got a touch on it first it broke to Deane who then fed Connolly to palm the ball passed Ryan.
It cut the deficit to four points but Kerry were continuing to dissect Cork’s middle, O’Sullivan and Paul Murphy almost bewildered by the amount of space in front of them to solo into. Morley had to be brave to deny Collins as he prepared to pull the trigger on Ryan in the 27th minute but Cork never got closer than four points.
O’Shea did well to rip back possession for a Clifford point in the 32nd minute and the Kenmare man was sending over his second free a minute later after Gavin White’s strike following another solo run was blocked by his namesake Mark.
Collins’ fourth free saw out the half to make it 1-10 to 1-4.
Scorers for Cork: L. Connolly (2-0, 1-0 pen); M. Collins (0-8, 6 frees); I. Maguire (1-0); S. White, J. Loughrey (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: S. O’Shea (0-8, 6 frees); T. O’Sullivan (1-1); D. Clifford (0-4, 1 free); S. O’Brien (0-2); D. Moynihan, P. Geaney, D. O’Connor, M. Burns (0-1 each).
CORK: M. White; N. Walsh, J. Loughrey, K. Flahive; L. O’Donovan, T. Clancy, M. Taylor; I. Maguire (c), K. O’Hanlon; P. Kerrigan, S. White, R. Deane; L. Connolly, B. Hurley, M. Collins.
Subs for Cork: K. O’Donovan for N. Walsh (inj, 35+2); K. O’Driscoll for S. White, M. Hurley for B. Hurley (both 59); S. Sherlock for L. Connolly (66); A. Browne for M. Taylor (68); S. Cronin for J. Loughrey (69).
KERRY: S. Ryan; J. Foley, T. Morley, P. Murphy; G. White (c), J. Sherwood, T. O’Sullivan; D. Moran, J. Barry; D. Moynihan, S. O’Shea, D. O’Connor; D. Clifford, P. Geaney, S. O’Brien.
Subs for Kerry: G. Crowley for J. Foley (43); M. Burns for D. Moynihan (50); A. Spillane for J. Barry (52); B. Ó Beaglaoich for D. O’Connor (66); M. Griffin for T. O’Sullivan (68).
Sent off: P. Geaney (yellow and black, 54).
Referee: A. Nolan (Wicklow).