How game-management smarts helped Kerry dodge a bullet

Life was breathed into the Munster championship on Saturday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork showed up and battled, stayed with Kerry for the game but ultimately came up short. Kerry played in fits and starts, put up a good score and got the job done. Both teams have plenty to reflect on this week as they ready themselves for the serious stuff.

How game-management smarts helped Kerry dodge a bullet

Life was breathed into the Munster championship on Saturday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork showed up and battled, stayed with Kerry for the game but ultimately came up short. Kerry played in fits and starts, put up a good score and got the job done. Both teams have plenty to reflect on this week as they ready themselves for the serious stuff.

Ironically, it was the Kerry players who looked more subdued after the final whistle. Like the rest of us, Cork were probably unsure pre-game and were relieved to have given an account of themselves. They have made progress and there were signs that all the pre-game talk about a new-found confidence and consistency had some merit.

When they review the match, however, they will realise they had a big chance to cause an upset but their lack of Division 1 football for the last few years told against them when the game was there to be won. It is imperative for their development to make the Super 8s and get exposed to the top teams and their game-management smarts. Division 3 football won’t help them in that regard next spring.

After Brian Hurley’s goal which levelled the game on 48 minutes, Cork scored a meagre four points for the remaining 27 minutes of the match. In that time some of their shot selection - shot executions in particular - and decision-making were daft. It reminded me of two years ago in the Gaelic Grounds when they had Mayo on the rack in extra-time of the qualifier game but kicked poor wides. This will only improve through being identified in the video review, good coaching on the training pitch.

Super 8 football will ask those hard questions of them again and if they can come up with better solutions, they are developing. Stephen O’Brien displayed massive leadership for Kerry in the final quarter and showed his game-management nous with the free he bought to put Kerry three clear and make the game safe at the end. Cork have a bit to go before they get there but extending their championship run is step one of the process.

In a tight match full of incident, big moments are decisive and two in particular stuck out in this regard. Shortly after Cork had leveled the game, Paul Kerrigan had a shot for a point that dropped short into Shane Ryan’s hands.

Cardinal error.

Kerry went straight down the field and Diarmuid O’Connor showed great determination and confidence to force an opening (ably assisted by a courageous flick from the aforementioned O’Brien) and score a point to put Kerry back in the lead again. Two-point swing and Cork’s chance to lead for the first time in the match was gone.

The second huge incident was after Mark Collins had converted a free in the 71st minute, Cork’s final score. They were one down on the next kick-out and pressed well. Shane Ryan elected to go long and Ruairí Deane (who was immense for Cork) looked to be in pole position to secure the kick-out but spilled it and Gavin Crowley won a great break. It was transferred to Micheál Burns (via Adrian Spillane and David Clifford) and the Dr Crokes player converted. Kerry won the resultant kick-out which lead to the late free that O’Brien won meaning Cork needed a goal to get a draw. Game over. Kerry made sure they came out on the right side of these plays and, by extension, the result.

From a Kerry perspective, there was plenty to get the attention of Peter Keane and his management. They have three weeks until the start of the Super 8s which this year will kick off with a home game in Killarney. The fact we haven’t lost a championship game there since 1995 gives Kerry a great opportunity to get off to a fast start, unlike last year. They will be happy to have had their pulse well and truly tested and to have come through a battle, building resilience for down the road.

They scored 1-19, which will win most games and had some fine individual displays from Stephen O’Brien, David Clifford and Seán O’Shea in particular. They will be delighted to have got a good bit of football into Paul Murphy, Jack Barry and Gavin White who had all returned from lay-offs, looked rusty at times and will benefit from this. There are plenty of items in the must-do-better column also which is great from a management perspective.

Striving to improve these areas will drive training and will mean there is no risk of stale sessions or a comfort zone for the coming weeks.

For the third big game in a row, Kerry lost the second half and they won’t be happy with conceding three goals and coughing up other goal chances. At times, because of the huge work-rate by their half-forward line in particular, they were sucked deep and there was a big gap between the full-forward line and the rest of the team.

They will try and have someone link the play better to give that crucial out-ball and reduce the amount of running the ball they had to do on Saturday evening. Keane will also look to squeeze the medical and S&C teams to get everyone back on the pitch from injury ASAP. The importance of subs was evident once more, in particular the crucial impact of Micheál Burns. Kerry will need more of these game-breaker type players for the last quarter of the Super 8s games and they will need a strong squad to absorb injuries and fatigue.

Plenty to ponder therefore.

GAA podcast: Should Kerry sweep? Cork binning excuses. The adoration of Michael Murphy. Tripping Dublin

Mike Quirke reviews the GAA weekend with Oisín McConville, Donncha O'Connor and Tony Leen.

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