Hurley the hero for Cork

A touch of scoring class from Cork corner-forward Brian Hurley was the crucial intervention in deciding yesterday’s ESB Munster MFC final in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney.

With three minutes left, Cork were looking devoid of inspiration when captain Daniel Fitzgerald, who made his first appearance of an injury- plagued season as a second-half substitute, gathered a high ball and did brilliantly to offload to Hurley. The Castlehaven player initially feinted to fire a drive from a tight angle but after seeing Kerry netminder Pádraic McCarthy dive, Hurley produced a delightful chip with his left foot and the ball dropped to the net.

It was a sublime strike which finally settle a largely mundane encounter. Cork soaked up a barrage of late attacks from their opponents and while Kerry had grounds for complaint with referee Keith O’Brien’s decision to award a free out for over-carrying as substitute Tadhg Morley burst forward, it was Cork who kept their nerve.

“A great way to win it,” remarked Cork manager Brian Cuthbert after the dramatic conclusion. “We got the break and Brian Hurley’s finish was unbelievable. Our defence was very good as well and I think Damian Cahalane is going to make a name for himself in the future. He did a great job today and we’ll look forward to facing Armagh or Tyrone.”

The match winner Hurley, who supplied a hefty 1-6 out of Cork’s overall 1-8 total, attributed the plaudits elsewhere after the game.

“Daniel Fitzgerald, who’s a great captain, got free off his man, I peeled off mine and got it off him. I dinked it and luckily it went into the back of the net. But it’s not my perform- ance, the whole team worked hard to beat Kerry today.”

It was fitting that Hurley should fire the match-winning strike as he had shouldered the scoring burden for Cork for long stretches.

Cork faced into a first-half wind that ruled out clean shooting, yet Hurley’s freetaking was still spot on and in the second-half he scored some terrific points. The Castlehaven influence on Cork’s victory extended beyond Hurley as Cahalane was in marvellous form at full-back. Brian Cuthbert’s decision to pull Cahalane back to a defensive role reaped a massive dividend as he stymied the threat of Gavin O’Grady, who had torn Limerick to shreds at the semi-final stage.

Elsewhere Cork overcame an opening-half of anxiety to improve in the second-half with Tomás Clancy resolute in defence, Jamie Burns strong at midfield and Kevin Hallissey impressing in attack.

The loss of Glenbeigh/Glencar defender Pa Kilkenny after only six minutes to injury was a serious blow to Kerry. Robbed of their best man-marker, Kerry were unable to halt the scoring charge of Hurley. They also endured difficulties at midfield early on where Burns and John O’Rourke established a foothold but Cork lacked the guile and direction to forge ahead on the scoreboard in the first-half.

The scoring was limited in the opening 30 minutes with Kerry just edging ahead 0-4 to 0-3, with Eanna O’Connor the star of the show from open play and placed ball. Captain James Walsh fired over a stunning shot from distance before the break and Kerry started the second-half in a commanding fashion.

They seemed to have taken a real grip on the game when Mark Reen burrowed through to slip a shot to the net in the 38th minute but Cork fought back and only trailed 1-6 to 0-8 with seven minutes left.

Then came a vital incident when Cork goalkeeper David Hanrahan denied O’Connor a goal from point-blank range and from the rebound Kerry had a goal disallowed after it was adjudged that Morley had stepped out over the endline in possession.

The miss proved costly when Hurley pounced for the late goal that consigned Kerry to defeat yet manager Pat O’Driscoll vowed they would revive their challenge for the All-Ireland series.

“It’s a tough way to lose at the finish as I thought we’d hold out, since we were defending well. It was always going to be very close but I felt the referee made a few terrible decisions against us towards the end. But look there’s another day there and these lads aren’t finished yet.”

Scorers for Cork: B Hurley 1-6 (0-4f), K Sheehan (1f), K Hallissey 0-1 each.

Scorers for Kerry: M Reen 1-1, E O’Connor 0-4 (0-2f), G O’Grady, J Walsh 0-1 each.

Subs for Cork: D Fitzgerald for Ryan (44), D McEoin for Duggan (50), S O’Mahony for Sugrue (50).

Subs for Kerry: A Thompson for Kilkenny (inj) (6), C O’Leary for Durrant (25), T Morley for Hickey (54).

Referee: Keith O’Brien (Tipperary).

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