On Saturday, the flame went out on this one long before Rory Hickey brought first-half hostilities to a close. In fact, hostilities is slightly inappropriate. Kerry were ruthlessly professional and on a completely different level to Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds.
The Kingdom were noticeably tuned in from the off and scored 1-26, 1-24 from play. Their expansive kicking game and forward movement was at its very best. Colm Cooper was, once more, in spectacular form and is really enjoying his football. All of the forwards looked very sharp — from Declan O Sullivan’s link play on the 40 to his finishing inside, from Darran O Sullivan’s direct running that led to his goal to Kieran Donaghy’s wonderful fielding and from Donnacha Walsh’s break-winning to Kieran O’Leary’s point-scoring. If this forward line gets enough ammunition they will trouble most back lines, Cork’s included.
The only blot on the copybook was the concession of three goals. Jack O’Connor will not be happy about this, nor the manner of their concession. All three were similar insofar as they came from a Limerick player getting a run on his opponent and having a support runner on his shoulder. Cork do this brilliantly. They will undoubtedly be focusing on this Achilles heel of the Kingdom and will be looking to exploit it.
Jack will be reminding his defenders that Kerry need to stop this problem at source. The next video session will make for some uncomfortable viewing for a few green and gold defenders. The initial runner needs to be tackled immediately, thus robbing the movement of any momentum. While O’Connor will be disappointed with the goals conceded, deep down he will know that it is no harm to have something to work on coming up to the Munster final.
Limerick were very disappointing. They have regressed massively in 12 months. John Galvin and Stephen Lucey would have made little difference. They lacked intensity, particularly in the tackle, which for the last seven or eight years has been one of the foundations blocks on which they built their quest for Munster Championship success.
They were very loose at the back and allowed Kerry too much time on the ball. Some players seemed to be played out of position. Stephen Lavin looked very uncomfortable at corner back, a tough enough position for a specialist never mind a natural half-back. A tough task lies ahead for Maurice Horan as he tries to resurrect demoralised players and prepare them for the qualifiers.
Jack O’Connor and his management team will look to move on immediately and plan for Cork in four weeks. He will lose his players for a week as the county championship kicks off in Kerry. It will give him a chance to run the rule over his entire squad. Both Kerry and Cork are in similar situations coming into the final, having won both their games comprehensively. They will need to create the intensity required for a Kerry-Cork match from within. I thought Conor Counihan’s team selection with six changes was interesting for the Waterford game. He was sending out a message to his entire panel. He is going to pick the players who are performing in training regardless of previous service or reputation. He is creating cut-throat competition to bring the best out of his considerable panel. The Cody model. Players like Pearse O’Neill and Noel O’Leary were very disappointed at being left out. They will be anxious to prove their worth when training resumes. Whatever half forward gets O’Leary for company in the next competitive football Cork play could be in for an interesting experience. The only problem Counihan faces is balancing his assortment of riches, a problem most managers would love to have.
Similarly, all of Jack O’Connor’s replacements impacted on proceedings Saturday night. Paul Galvin, Barry John Keane, Daniel Bohane and David Geaney all looked very sharp. Micheál Quirke was as reliable as always at midfield to close the game out. Every player starting knows that possession is nine tenths of the law. He has to maintain high standards to hang onto the jersey.
The best thing about facing into a Kerry-Cork Munster final in Killarney from a player’s perspective is that it is much easier to get up for it. It can often be tougher to prepare mentally for a game against an underdog. This match takes care of itself. From a management point of view, both will find out exactly where they are and what needs to be done to reach Croke Park. How will the Kerry defence cope with the Cork attack? Will Maher and Sheehan match a much vaunted Cork midfield? Can the Kerry forwards trouble the Cork backs? Can Cork win in Killarney for the first time since 1995? The shadow boxing is over. Let the games begin.