Last night’s Munster junior decider was the first of three meetings between the counties this week and bragging rights, courtesy of this hugely emphatic win, rest with the Kingdom ahead of Sunday’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh double-header.
The visitors entered the game as reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions, the latter achievement ensuring a Cork team would have to be built from scratch for the current campaign, manager Paul McCarthy and his backroom staff the only remaining link to 2013.
It showed, badly at times last night.
Cork lacked cohesion in several quarters while this game was still a contest, their link-up play extremely poor and though their efforts could not be faulted, it was all too evident that this team required further time spent together. Put simply, last night’s clash arrived too soon in their development as a unit.
For Kerry, the silverware had all but been lifted by half-time. Leading by 2-8 to 0-5, their opponents had been marched to the gallows and the noose swiftly tightened.
Indeed, Brian Crowley’s goal on 28 seconds served as a microcosm for Kerry’s clinical nature over the hour. By the end of the first quarter Wallace’s charges has established a 1-4 to 0-1 advantage – corner-forwards Gavin O’Grady (0-2, 0-1 free) and Thomas Hickey (0-2) prospering amid the debris of the Cork defence.
Cork clawed their way back into proceedings through Seamus Hickey, Anthony O’Connor, Paul Condon and Conor Flanagan (0-1 free), but a charmed existence were they living at the other end. O’Grady and Hickey were both hugely unfortunate not to raise green flags, with Brian Crowley’s powerful strike thundering off the crossbar.
On 27 minutes, the Cork resistance broke.
O’Grady provided the final pass to Hickey and the Castleisland Desmonds forward rounded ‘keeper Pat Kirby to slot home.
O’Grady and Hickey nailed the target in the ensuing passages of play and Cork’s cause was a lost one heading for the dressing room at half-time.
“It is a sign of a young team to be looking for goals,” smiled Wallace.
“The average age of the team is 21 and youth is what we went for when we are assembling a panel. Three of the lads are U21 for the next two years. The one thing we didn’t want was a battle, Brian Crowley got a superb goal at the outset and we drove on from there. It was probably a script you couldn’t have written. The second goal was crucial as Cork were beginning to dominate at midfield.
“They really took the game to us in the second-half. Luckily our substitutions worked and we never let Cork back into it, we never let them within six points. Once Cork didn’t get a goal we were always in control.”
Cork, as noted, battle gamely at the change of ends with a brace of Mark Sugrue and Paul Condon frees, added to a terrific Seamus Hickey score, reducing the gap to 2-11 to 0-11 entering the final quarter. A goal they craved, but it never looked like materialising.
Instead, it was Kerry who rocked home goal number three – Gavin O’Grady successful from the penalty spot on 57 minutes.
“To be Munster champions is only one side of it. A lot of the guys out there are after coming up through the underage system unable to beat good Cork teams at minor and U21 level. This is a massive monkey of their back,” Wallace continued.
“This is a big win. Munster title, yes, but the fact they beat Cork from a Kerry football point of view is huge.”
Scorers for Kerry: G O’Grady (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees); T Hickey (1-4); B Crowley (1-2); S Moloney (0-2)
Scorers for Cork: P Condon (0-5, 0-3 frees); M Sugrue (0-3, 0-3 frees); S Hickey, A O’Connor (0-2 each); C Flanagan (0-1, 0-1 free).
KERRY: S Murphy (Kilcummin); S Lynch (Spa), K O’Dwyer (Waterville), D Wrenn (Tarbert); G Gibson (Waterville), D Daly (St Mary’s), G Crowley (Templenoe); A Garnett (Spa), B O’Sullivan (Valentia); B Crowley (Templenoe), C Keating (Skellig Rangers), P O’Connor (Cordal); G O’Grady (Glenbeigh/Glencar), P Kennelly (Ballydonoghue), T Hickey (Castleisland Desmonds).
Subs: S Moloney (John Mitchels) for O’Dwyer (30 mins), A O’Donoghue (John Mitchels) for O’Dwyer (38), M Brennan (Churchill) for Garnett (44), K Hurley (St Pats) for O’Sullivan (59).
CORK: P Kirby (Tadhg Mac Carthaigh); J Daly (Fermoy), J McLoughlin (Kanturk), M O’Shea (Glengarriff); N McCarthy (Kinsale), F O’Shea (Clyda Rovers), B Withers (Lyre); M Dineen (Castlehaven), J Kind (Passage West); J Dineen (Eire Óg), C Flanagan (Clyda Rovers), M Sugrue (Bandon); S Hickey (Rockchapel), P Condon (Mayfield), A O’Connor (Knocknagree).
Subs: S Murphy (Ballydesmond) for Daly (HT), C Brosnan (Brian Dillons) for Kind (HT), R Buckley (Macroom) for Murphy (48, bc), K Sheehan (Mallow) for J Dineen (55).
Referee: D O’Driscoll (Limerick).