Enough. That just about summed up this Kerry victory.
Enough to retain their Munster crown even though it was the joint second lowest winning score in a provincial final in almost 30 years.
Enough to maintain Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s unbeaten run in Munster, that streak now extended to eight games.
But, above all, enough to beat Cork at the second time of asking.
Afterwards, Fitzmaurice entered the press area soaked but satisfied. He wasn’t looking for his team to show the mark of All-Ireland champions but rather Munster ones. “I think we’re at the level we needed to be to win a Munster championship. After that, every team that gets to an All-Ireland quarter-final tries to up the ante and go up another gear if they can. We’ll be looking to improve again.”
Kerry enter the last eight more battle-hardened than they have been for quite some time, certainly the most tested as provincial victors since 2004 when they needed a second bite of the cherry to shake off Limerick.
In a dark and drenched Fitzgerald Stadium, it was hardly surprising that scores came at such a premium but Kerry gathered the right amount from theirs and Cork’s pockets to pay the price for victory.
Trailing by just a point at half-time, 0-8 to 1-4, Cork appeared to be in great shape going into the second period only to register just two further points. For the last 26 minutes, they failed to raise a flag and were so winded by Paul Geaney’s 50th minute goal that they didn’t register a score thereafter.
Brian Cuthbert said the value of such a score in that period was priceless. “If you take the way the game was going and the way the weather was, a goal at that time was going to be a huge score. They got it, hats off to them and they defended very, very well.”
Shane Enright gave Brian Hurley a torrid time and Rathmore pair Paul Murphy and Aidan O’Mahony truncated many a Cork attack. The rain failed to dampen David Moran’s play as his reputation continues to grow while Anthony Maher bettered Alan O’Connor, who had been so instrumental to Cork’s second half revival in the drawn game.
It said plenty about the depth of Kerry’s resources that Fionn Fitzgerald, hero of the first day, Darran O’Sullivan and Tommy Walsh saw no action on Saturday. Colm Cooper did, though, and his foresight proved the difference in cultivating the opportunity which Geaney took after some intuitive play from Donnchadh Walsh.
Kieran Donaghy made way for his former partner-in-crime Cooper in the 45th minute as Kerry realised the high ball tactic wasn’t working as it should. Like a captain, Donaghy accepted his early exit with the sort of grace that his manager would have appreciated.
“To be fair to Kieran, I thought he did well in the first half,” reviewed Fitzmaurice. “It was a tough night for that kind of football from the point of view that it was very hard to secure the ball. There was a lot of wrestling going on inside there and we decided it (a different approach) could be something we could do and the change of emphasis definitely suited us as the game went on.”
At that stage, Cork were just a point in arrears and may have seen Donaghy’s departure as a small win considering Jamie O’Sullivan, at this stage a full-blown utility player, had been asked to do a spoiling job similar to what injured Eoin Cadogan did on July 5.
But Cuthbert, as satisfied as he was with O’Sullivan, had been annoyed by his side’s lack of discipline in the opening half. Alan O’Connor was guilty of giving away two of the five frees Bryan Sheehan stuck over. “
Jamie O’Sullivan played very well on him and the conditions wouldn’t have helped him because a greasy ball like that and the ball bouncing in front of him he would have been a very difficult man to mark. I thought Jamie did very well on him.
“We gave away some very soft frees in the first half. But at half-time I would have said we were in a very good position and a lot of people would have felt the same. Once the goal came we found it difficult to do the right thing with the ball.”
Kevin O’Driscoll scored seconds after Cooper’s arrival but Cork drew a blank for the remainder. Alan O’Connor moved to full-forward for the final 10 minutes of action but Maher followed and negated him.
The final two points of the game, in the 60th and 63rd minutes, were courtesy of James O’Donoghue as he showed perseverance having found James Loughrey more than a match for the majority of the game.
He won a free off the Cork defender, which Geaney converted, and then boomed over a tremendous point to the delight of the home crowd.
Kerry had deserved their first half lead having kept their heads better than Cork. In conditions where frees were as cheap as confetti, they provided Colm O’Neill and Donncha O’Connor with a total of three uncontested kicks at the posts. Paul Kerrigan’s goal in the 33rd minute, the aforementioned pair working well to free him, and Stephen Cronin’s chance seconds later denied by a combination of Brendan Kealy’s athleticism and the bar were blots in the Kerry defence’s otherwise tidy copybook.
Fitzmaurice was happier with the unit’s shift: “I think we were a bit more open the first day out but a bit more solid tonight.To be fair to Cork, you have to give credit to them for a great goal. Paul Kerrigan timed his run very well and a great finish.
“That goal was perfect timing from their point of view. Our goal then gave us huge momentum and the crowd really got behind the team.
“Cork went a bit direct trying to get a goal and sacrificed scoring chances. “
The 50th-minute goal, initiated by Colm Cooper and eventually finished by Paul Geaney, broke Cork.
Can Cork recover in eight days to make the last eight? Looking down the line, would Kerry beat the Ulster champions in an All-Ireland semi-final on the basis of this outing?
Had the game finished level at the end of normal time, it would have been difficult to stage two 10 minute periods of extra-time, given the darkness in Killarney.
All four of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s four changes from the replay worked well.
Staggering that RTÉ gave the crystal to James O’Donoghue given how strong James Loughrey was against him. David Moran and Jonathan Lyne stood out for us, as did Aidan O’Mahony, Jonathan Lyne, Paul Murphy and Shane Enright.
Maurice Deegan can be satisfied with his performance. In difficult conditions not to mention the intensity, he handled the game adroitly apart from second half time-keeping.
Kerry face the winners of the qualifier tie between Fermanagh and Westmeath in an All-Ireland quarter-final on Sunday week. Cork play Kildare on Saturday to determine who faces Dublin eight days later.
P Geaney (1-3, 0-1 free); B Sheehan (0-5, 5 frees); D Walsh, J Lyne, J O’Donoghue (0-1 each).
C O’Neill (0-3, 2 frees); P Kerrigan (1-0); D O’Connor (free), Brian O’Driscoll, K O’Driscoll (0-1 each).
B Kealy; S Enright, P Murphy, M Ó Sé; A O'Mahony, K Young, J Lyne; A Maher, D Moran; D Walsh, B Sheehan, J Buckley; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O'Donoghue.
M Geaney for J Buckley (inj 30); C Cooper for K Donaghy (45); S O’Brien for B Sheehan (58); BJ Keane for P Geaney (63); P Galvin for D Walsh (66); P Crowley for K Young (68). Red: S O’Brien (70, second yellow).
K O'Halloran; J Loughrey, J O'Sullivan, M Shields; Brian O'Driscoll, S Cronin, Barry O'Driscoll; A O'Connor, K O'Driscoll; P Kerrigan, P Kelly, M Collins; C O'Neill, D O'Connor, B Hurley.
F Goold for D O’Connor (47); C Dorman for K O’Driscoll (55); D Goulding for P Kelly (60); T Clancy for Barry O’Driscoll (66); J Hayes for B Hurley (67)
M Deegan (Laois)