It was a strange game. Cork did not score after Ryan Harkin’s 46th-minute point, but it was still enough, earlier goals having done enough to knock the life out of the Kerry challenge.
Harkin with a point and Kevin O’Neill with a goal were Cork’s only scorers apart from excellent corner-forward Michael Cahalane, who finished with 1-5 and had a massive say in the opening goal in the 10th minute.
With Cork trailing by 0-4 to 0-1, Kevin Cremin and Jack Bushe linked well before the latter found Cahalane and he went for goal, his shot rasping back off the crossbar before hitting unfortunate Kerry midfielder Éanna Ó Conchúir and rebounding back in.
That paved the way for Cork to take over on the scoreboard, only trailing once more after that, yet manager Ephie Fitzgerald was not getting over-excited.
“We were pleased with some aspects of it,” he said.
“We had a sluggish start and then got a fortuitous goal, but after that we improved. Michael Cahalane was outstanding all right, anything that went his way he won it, he gave us a great outlet.
“The goals gave us a cushion, they win matches, if you get three you should win most matches. There are still a lot of things to work with, we’re happy with the win, but not the overall performance.”
In contrast with last week’s drawn game, this time Cork took their goal chances while Kerry failed to.
Having opted to play with the strong wind blowing towards Castleisland, the home side found their rhythm immediately and only a good save from Cork goalkeeper Anthony Casey denied Tomás Ó Sé a goal inside 20 seconds.
Conor Keane pointed immediately for the home side though, and points followed from Ó Sé, Éanna Ó Conchúir and Jack Savage as Cork struggled, unable to work the ball in despite having withdrawn full-forward Aidan Moynihan.
Cahalane’s free got the visitors off the mark in the eighth minute and then, after the goal, he put them ahead for the first time as Kerry, who also played with just two men inside in the opening period, began to offer up cheap wides.
Savage was a constant threat at centre-forward, his kick-passing excellent, and he converted a free before assisting for Keane to put them back in front at 0-6 to 1-2 by the midway stage of the half.
They would not score again before half time though, and after Cahalane levelled Cork were back in front when the same player found the net after good work by Jack Bushe.
Having seized upon a loose ball 40m out, the Ilen Rovers player drove towards goal and then passed to Cahalane within shooting range, allowing him an easy finish.
Another Cahalane free made it 2-4 to 0-6 at the turnaround, and immediately after the restart he found the impressive Kevin O’Neill with a lovely threaded ball, the wing-back finishing well with the outside of his boot for a third goal.
Though Kerry responded with two Savage frees, Cahalane and Harkin put Cork 3-6 to 0-8 in front and good defending from Micheál McSweeney and captain Stephen Cronin ensured Kerry’s efforts to mine an avenue back into the game were frustrated.
Savage did get the game’s final two points, but by then the outcome was decided. Manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan remained positive, however.
“You have to give credit [to Cork], they took the goals, they’re a strong, physically imposing team and that was the difference,” he said.
“We’ll regroup now, we have a game against Clare or Limerick, that’s the only show in town.
“As the year goes by, the conditions will get better and the ground harder, that’ll suit the smaller guys.”
Scorers for Cork: M Cahalane 1-5 (0-4f), K O’Neill 1-0, Own goal 1-0, R Harkin 0-1.
Scorers for Kerry: J Savage 0-6 (5f), C Keane 0-2, T Ó Sé, É Ó Conchúir 0-1 each.
CORK: A Casey; M McSweeney, K Flahive, D Quinn; S White, S Cronin, K O’Neill; R Harkin, K O’Connor; J Bushe, C Kingston, R O’Sullivan; M Cahalane, A Moynihan, R O’Sullivan.
Subs: D O’Driscoll for O’Sullivan, K Histon for Quinn (both 36), R Cahalane for Moynihan (43), P O’Brien for O’Neill (51), C O’Driscoll for Cahalane (60).
KERRY: S Ryan; ST Dillon, C Ó Lúing, P Ó Conchúir; M Flaherty, G Horan, B Sugrue; É Ó Conchúir, K Shanahan; T Ó Sé, J Savage, D Foran; C Keane, C Jordan, K Spillane.
Subs: M Burns for Spillane, F Clifford for Dillon (half-time), P Carroll for Foran (50), S O’Connor for Ó Conchúir (54).
Referee: D Grogan (Tipperary).