COLM COOPER: Kerry prepare for Croke Park run untested yet again

Some might believe Éamonn Fitzmaurice will have a hard job this week picking holes in the Munster final performance of his players in Killarney yesterday.

Believe me, he has it done already. Wasted goal chances, too many opportunities given up to Cork, and a patchy midfield performance will have given the Kerry manager plenty to be picking the bones off.

Outside the ground afterwards was a new experience for me, sampling the air of buoyancy among the Kerry supporters, but it’s too soon outside the player bubble for me to be ignoring things that need fixing.

One sobering thought over-rode everything else — Clare, Tipperary, Clare. The run Kerry had to the All-Ireland semi-final last year. This summer, Kerry could find themselves in a quarter-final against Mayo having played Clare and a desperately poor Cork side.

There are too many creases to iron out, too many things to roadtest, before Kerry are insulated against a proper side in Croke Park.

Someone asked me walking down Lewis Rd were Kerry worth a 9/10 yesterday. Seven, I told him, and I’m not sure if he thought I was joking or not. I wasn’t.

There were three proper goal chances for Kerry, and at least three that they conceded. As a defender himself, Éamonn will not be pleased at the latter statistic.

Ian Maguire looked to have the beating of the Kerry midfielders in possession but he couldn’t sustain it. Had he finished off that chance in the first quarter, it was a two-point game.

Even going off at half-time, I was looking at the body language of the Cork players. I didn’t get the impression they truly believed they could come out in the second period and ask some proper questions of Kerry.

It’s tremendously difficult if the players don’t believe, and the supporters don’t believe, to convince a team like Kerry that they are going to have to dig really deep to see off this Cork team. Five minutes after the restart we saw the evidence for ourselves — a four-point game was suddenly 0-16 to 0-7.

The intriguing little extra for Kerry was the role of Kieran Donaghy. His selection indicated to me that he was there to pin Jamie O’Sullivan down at the point of Kerry’s attack, but he really only contested two balls ‘into the mixer’ all afternoon.

The goal came off the second one, and Kieran will be frustrated he spilled the other one. I am told he has been an example in training, keeping the head down, working really hard. What intrigues is whether he is the third part of that inside line, or was this just a horses for courses selection against Cork.

Barry John Keane and Stephen O’Brien can also play that inside role alongside James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney, and it looks to me like it will rotate depending on the system, and the opposition Kerry faces along the way.

I still think there is more in Geaney, even after 1-5 yesterday. And the evidence that O’Donoghue is coming again was there in all its dashing sharpness yesterday.

Living in Killarney means you see the bits and pieces, you heard the chatter, that he’s been fronting up for Legion and getting good quality minutes on the pitch this year, which he hasn’t for the previous two seasons. His sharpness yesterday was impressive, but imagine what it will be like come autumn if he can continue that upward curve.

The temptation to keep Stephen O’Brien in reserve as an impact sub may be too great for Éamonn, even though the player himself might be frustrated.

He is a devastating addition to any team at wing forward when the opposition’s defenders are spent, tracking up and down the wings after 50 minutes. Seán Powter was one of Cork’s bright points yesterday — when was the last time anyone saw Donnchadh Walsh taken off at half-time — but O’Brien had the legs on him after half-time when Kerry stepped on the gas.

That was the most demoralising period of the Munster final if you were from Cork. No pressure on the ball, no intensity in the tackle, and no ability to bottle Kerry up and turn the game into a scrap.

I am conscious I’ve been giving Cork a bit of it in recent weeks, but the question must be asked again: Where are the leaders? Leaders are found in the trenches and when Cork were struggling yesterday, I saw no one show that streak of defiance that is synonymous with the Rebel County.

Whatever else needs work and coaching, whatever gap in standards there is at the moment between Kerry and Cork, there should be no gulf in intensity and making every ball, every tackle count.

Kicking 15 points against Kerry in Killarney might look respectable on paper, but anyone watching realises that a third of Cork’s total was was in dead time when both sides were running down the clock on an interminably long second half (caused by Fionn Fitzgerald’s unfortunate clash of heads).

In a previous column, I referred to the ideal Munster final for a Kerry player — a win, but at least 15% of your form left to find. In my view, Kerry have at least that. The worry is that if there are problems with their defence, there wasn’t enough about Cork to expose it. If there was a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, Cork weren’t good enough to make Kerry pay for it. Kerry look good. The trouble is Éamonn Fitzmaurice won’t know how good until they hit Croke Park.

And this time, the quarter-final draw may not be as kind as in previous seasons.


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