The answer was an unequivocal No, after some early magic from Colm Cooper undermined them and Kerry’s mastery all over the field drained away their confidence in the second of the Bank of Ireland championship semi-finals.
This performance from Cork was inexplicable. They were seriously handicapped by a lack of scoring power and while substitute Kevin O’Sullivan came close to goaling twice near the end, all they managed from play over the two halves was a mere four points.
Jack O’Connor could never have anticipated that his team could exert such an influence and minimise the threat from key Cork players to such an effective degree.
With Derek Kavanagh making a surprise appearance at midfield, having publicly stated last week that he expected to be out of action for two to three weeks, Cork made a good start with two points in the first five minutes. The first came from a James Masters free and might very well have been a goal had Philip Clifford not been hauled down as he charged through the centre. Kerry were level by the 9th minute without really having to stretch themselves, and Liam Hassett gave them the lead two minutes later with a great score.
From that stage forward, Kerry were to assume a steady grip on the game and eventually control the play. Cork’s troubles started in the left corner of their defence where Niall Geary became the latest defender to be seriously exposed by Cooper’s ball-winning ability and marvellous shooting. Geary was withdrawn, though replacement Kieran O’Connor did not fare much better.
What enabled Kerry to gain an early dominance was the huge contribution from individuals like Liam Hassett, once more showing all his old craft in reading the game and distributing good ball, and both midfielders with William Kirby again a star against an out-of-touch Kavanagh and Dara Ó Sé bettering Nicholas Murphy. Kerry also dominated at half-back to great effect and Eoin Brosnan also had a strong impact on the game, limiting Anthony Lynch, who was never as forceful as he had been in the earlier rounds. Likewise, Paul Galvin further complemented their advantage and added three excellent points from play.
When Cork did manage to get ball into their attack, it was often misdirected and suited the Kerry backs. Only Philip Clifford looked capable of causing some damage but he saw little enough of the ball, Brendan Jer O’Sullivan was more involved in the play but didn’t do an awful lot, while each of the three newcomers, Masters, John Hayes and Kevin McMahon (who was to finish strongly) found it very difficult to make progress. This was very much to the credit of the stability of Kerry’s inside backs, with Aidan O’Mahony outstanding all through, McCarthy rock-solid and the unflappable Tom O’Sullivan always comfortable under pressure.
After 20 minutes play - following two superb scores from Cooper - Kerry were leading 0-7 to 0-2 and Cork weren’t to get their third score until four minutes later. The net effect of Kerry superiority was to see them widen the gap on the scoreboard and turn over with a seven points advantage, 0-11 to 0-4.
Clearly for Cork the second half was all about respectability and, disconcertingly for Morgan and his co-selectors, the players were even denied that. The early goal they craved never looked like materialising and when Kerry found the net after just nine minutes, the writing was on the wall.
Cork lifted their game briefly on the resumption and managed two points (from frees) before Brosnan put the ball in the net after a shot from Cooper came back off an upright: it ended the game as a contest.
Cork had re-started with Kavanagh at full-back (where he had starred in Killarney last year) and Canty at midfield. Nicholas Murphy was to make a few strong runs down the centre, one of which promised a goal until he was fouled at the edge of the square and Lynch had the freedom to go forward a few times. But Cork were only playing for their pride and were going nowhere.
Kerry introduced five subs over the last 20 minutes, a big cheer greeting Mike Frank Russell’s entry and wide acclamation acknowledging Cooper’s role when he made way for Declan Quill near the end.
The title-holders could relax long before the final whistle.
* Joe McQuillan’s refereeing was as good as I expected from the most promising of the newcomers of recent years. Having said that, it was an easy game to handle.
: Kerry: C. Cooper 0-5; E. Brosnan 1-2; P. Galvin 0-3; B. Sheehan 0-2 frees; T. O Se, L. Hassett, W. Kirby, M.F. Russell, D. O Cinneide (free), A. O’Mahony and M. McCarthy 0-1 each. Cork: K. McMahon 0-2; J. Masters 0-2 frees; J. Hayes 0-2 frees; P. Clifford 0-2 (0-1 free); A. Lynch 0-1.
: D. Murphy; A. O’Mahony, M. McCarthy, T. O’Sullivan; T. O Se, M. O Se, S. Moynihan; D. O Se, W. Kirby; L. Hassett, E. Brosnan, P. Galvin; C. Cooper, D. O’Sullivan (capt.), B. Sheehan.
: D. O Cinneide for Sheehan (49th minute); M.F. Russell for Hassett (58th); E. Fitzmaurice for T. O Se (65th); D. Quill for Cooper (67th); K. Donaghy for Kirby (68th).
: K. O’Dwyer; G. Murphy, G. Canty, N. Geary; N. O’Leary, A. Lynch, O. Sexton (capt.); D. Kavanagh, N. Murphy; J. Masters, C. McCarthy, K. McMahon; P. Clifford, B.J. O’Sullivan, J. Hayes. Subs: K. O’Connor for Geary (19th minute); A. Cronin for Masters (second half); M. Cronin for O’Leary (50th); K. O’Sullivan for McCarthy (53rd).
: J. McQuillan (Cavan).
*Before the game a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Galway football legend Sean Purcell, who died on Saturday.