It was a joy well earned, an ecstatic Rebel bench having to endure some anxious moments before referee Rory Hickey’s final whistle put an end to never-day-die Kerry’s stirring challenge. Cork had passed a searching examination in a game that had everything - pace, great movement off the ball and terrific scores.
And although Cork led by just a point at the break, despite dominating the first half, the astute Leahy knew his charges were in for a second-half Kerry backlash. How right he was.
“Yeah, I felt Kerry would come out hard in the second half. They opened us up, hit us with everything and went a couple of points clear.
“But, fair play to our guys, their heads never dropped. We kept our shape, even after John Hayes missed his penalty. There’s great character in the team, but we got a big test today.”
In the end, second-half goals from Hayes, who made quick atonement for his penalty miss, and Daniel Goulding, who sublimely blasted home his spot kick, went a long way to winning an all-action contest, with champions Cork now going on to play Clare in the semi-final.
Cork deserved their victory. After Hayes and Goulding had scored quick points, the champions began to open up the Kerry defence. Goalkeeper Brendan Kealy had to make two great saves from Paul Kerrigan and with Cork in control at midfield, where Alan O’Connor and Paddy Kelly were outstanding, the champions led 0-3 to 0-1 after the opening quarter.
Kerry’s cause was not helped when they lost big centre-forward Adrian O’Connor early on through injury.
But they were right back in the game in the 20th minute. Declan O’Sullivan won a great ball out on the left. He found the skilful Colin O’Connor, who rounded Donal Óg O’Donovan before shooting low past Ken O’Halloran. Cork squandered numerous chances to take control as a gritty Kerry side stuck in and with Bryan Sheehan now doing excellent work at midfield, the champions only led 0-8 to 1-4 at the break. Indeed it took a great save from O’Halloran to deny Donncha Walsh a goal late on.
Kerry’s second-half charge was quick and telling and with Sheehan and substitute Andrew Garnett now strutting their stuff at midfield, a plethora of points from O’Connor, Walsh, Sheehan and Darren and Declan O’Sullivan stung Cork.
Cork did have cracking points from Goulding and Kerrigan, but with the game delicately balanced, Cork had a great chance to seize the initiative again in the 43rd minute when Kelly was upended. Hayes, however, blasted the penalty wide. But the Cork senior made quick amends a minute later when he rifled home a great pass from O’Connor as Cork led 1-12 to 1-9 entering the final quarter.
Again Kerry brought the lead down to the minimum, only for Colleges star Michael Shields to lift the siege with a heart-warming point, racing the full length of the pitch. Then the defining moment in the 54th minute when Hayes was brought down and this time Goulding did the business. For the first time in the match, Kerry selector Charlie Nelligan was back in his seat. The penalty strike proved to be of vital importance as three late points, two from O’Connor and one from Sheehan, let Cork know they had been in a game.
: Cork: D Goulding 1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-2 frees), J Hayes 1-4 (0-2 frees), F Gould 0-2, P Kerrigan, M Shields 0-1 each. Kerry: C O’Connor 1-3, B Sheehan 0-5 (frees), Declan O’Sullivan 0-2 (0-1 free), D Doyle, P Sheehan, D Walsh, Darren O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
: Ken O’Halloran; D Óg O’Donovan, Kevin O’Halloran, M Shields; D Cunningham, C O’Connell, E Cadogan; A O’Connor, P Kelly; F Gould, J Hayes, P Kerrigan; D Goulding, P O’Flynn, M Murphy. Subs: A Tanner for O’Connell, F Tobin for Kevin O’Halloran, G Leahy for Kerrigan.
: B Kealy; M O’Mahony, L Quinn P Reidy; P Sheehan, M MacGearailt, D Doyle; D Walsh, D Breen; Declan O’Sullivan, A O’Connor, C O’Connor; Darren O’Sullivan, B Sheehan, R Galvin. Subs: N O’Mahony for A O’Connor, A Garnett for Breen, D Geaney for Galvin.
: R Hickey (Clare).