The McGrath Cup hardly sets the pulse racing in either camp and this semi-final clash was a tame affair when placed against the fire and brimstone ties of recent summers.
The bragging rights, such as they were, belonged to Kerry, thanks to a resurgent second-half performance, yet they were not ecstatic in victory, just as Cork were hardly crushed by the defeat. The teams will square off in a fortnight in a National League opener and there are favourable prospects that their paths will cross during the summer. Those are the games on which Jack O’Connor and Conor Counihan will be judged. For O’Connor the prospect of a final date with Clare next Saturday was the primary source of his satisfaction as he gets another chance to survey nascent talents.
“It was good to win as it means we have another game next weekend. That’s what fellas want. They don’t want to just train away so it’s good to have another game. We won’t really have too many sleepless nights if we don’t win the McGrath Cup. It’s a good way for trying to prepare for the league and get our panel in shape.”
O’Connor will be heartened by the manner in which this game shifted towards his side in the second-half. Trailing by 1-8 to 0-8 at the interval, Kerry were forced to yield to Cork’s supremacy early in the second period. A beautifully struck point by Kevin McMahon in the 44th minute nudged Cork 1-10 to 0-9 ahead but for the heroics of Brendan Kealy in goal, Kerry’s situation would have been perilous. The Kilcummin netminder was in fine form all day, beating away an Alan O’Connor drive in the 26th minute and smothering a Fiachra Lynch shot in the 39th minute.
Kerry took over in key areas in the second-half. Tomás Ó Sé, efficiently controlling play, was a familiar sight at centre-back while optimism for the future was provided by the effectiveness of Jonathan Lyne alongside him. Further upfield it was Darran O’Sullivan who emerged as the offensive figurehead. His electric pace created early first-half points and in the second-half he began the move that led to a tidy goal by Donncha Walsh in the 48th minute. O’Sullivan signed off on an impressive day’s work when he was fouled for the 66th minute penalty that David Moran converted to seal Kerry’s victory. After a brief sojourn in defence, the Glenbeigh-Glencar man has returned to a familiar terrain.
“We played him in the backs the first day because we were stuck there”, remarked O’Connor. “He’s in a good patch of form at the moment. We are playing him more centrally so that when he does run, he’s going for the goals. It seems to be working.”
Cork may have exited the competition but they could still reflect on useful workouts over the last three weekends. In the opening-half they looked on the brink of capsizing as Kerry’s midfield superiority paved the way for a 0-8 to 0-3 lead after 20 minutes. The introduction of Kieran O’Connor provided valuable experience in defence and they settled to the rhythms of the match. Denis O’Sullivan bombed forward from his right half-back berth at will while Fiachra Lynch inflicted some scoring damage.
The standout operator though was Mark Cronin, handed a starting jersey after sparkling substitute showings. In the first-half he curled over two points from play, landed two frees that he had earned himself and was impeded for a penalty in the 26th minute. Lynch rifled home a goal from that opening and Cork were full value for their three-point interval lead. Cork maintained that tempo early in the second-half yet failed to press home that advantage on the scoreboard. Selector Terry O’Neill pinpointed that phase as critical but was mindful that the inter-county arena is a new experience for these players. Cork’s big guns, who were in action in a challenge against Meath on Saturday, will be back in harness soon and could be augmented by some of the newcomers.
“Three points in the second-half wasn’t going to be enough to win. We had 10 minutes there when we should have got a goal on the board and three points out of it. At this level you just can’t afford to miss those chances. We were disappointed but inexperience probably told during the period.
“But you couldn’t say they didn’t put in a battling performance all round. We’d be very happy to have got three games over the last few weeks. It’s a long year ahead yet, we’re only in the third week of January now.”
Scorers for Kerry: D Geaney 0-5 (0-4frees), D Moran 1-1 (1-0 pen), D Walsh 1-0, Darran O’Sullivan 0-3, P Geaney 0-2.
Cork: F Lynch 1-2 (1-0 pen), M Cronin 0-4 (0-2 frees); D Goold (0-1 ‘45), K McMahon 0-2 each, G Spillane 0-1.
KERRY: B Kealy; P Reidy, Danny O’Sullivan, S Enright; J Lyne, T Ó’Sé, E Hickson; A Maher, S Scanlon; A O’Sullivan, Darran O’Sullivan, D Walsh; D Geaney, D Moran, P Geaney.
Subs: P O’Connor for Enright (28), G Sayers for A O’Sullivan (half-time), K O’Dwyer for Hickson (49), M O’Donoghue for D Geaney (59).
CORK: D Lordan; I Jones, G Spillane, E Cotter; D O’Sullivan, R O’Sullivan, AJ O’Connor; E Keane, A O’Connor; D Goold, T O’Neill, K McMahon; M Cronin, F Lynch, C O’Driscoll.
Subs: K O’Connor for AJ O’Connor (21), D O’Connor for O’Driscoll (52), N Murphy for O’Neill (57), J Sexton for Lynch (inj) (63), B Shanahan for Jones (69)
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)