Heading to Tralee yesterday, Cork weren’t at beholding to other counties. They didn’t require favours from MacHale Park or Clones in order to safeguard their Division 1 status. Cork’s fate was in their own hands and yet this was blatantly unclear from their endeavours at Austin Stack Park.
Consistency is a word that has been checked by almost every Cork player and member of management at one point since January. Stringing together a meaningful run of performances was their primary target. If a result followed, all the better. Neither was achieved here. Not even close.
Old failings still persist as the summer appears on the horizon.
Cork did not play like a team teetering above the drop zone, nor as a team hell bent on doing everything in their power to avoid spending next spring in Division 2. And they did not play as a team determined to achieve some semblance of consistency heading into the championship. The visitors were opened up inside 31 seconds after Donnchadh Walsh was afforded not one, but two chances to find the target, they trailed 0-10 to 0-2 after 20 minutes, went scoreless for 17 minutes of that opening half and when they did manage to restore parity midway through the second-half, Cork never truly looked capable of overtaking their opponents.
Credit Kerry for that last point. Fitzmaurice’s men took their foot off the gas after the break, but at the first sight of danger - when Brian Hurley stroked over a close range free to bring Cork level on 59 minutes - Kerry ratcheted it up a few notches and returned in front courtesy of a fine Marc Ó Sé point.
Why wasn’t he tracked? Cork had exhausted a fair amount of energy and effort to claw back an eight-point deficit and greater resistance should have been offered in attempting to maintain parity.
A foul on Barry John Keane enabled Colm Cooper kick his second free and Cork’s race was run when Michael Shields received a straight red card for elbowing Michael Geaney on 67 minutes. Heads dropped, and Kerry capitalised on their numerical advantage with points from Fionn Fitzgerald, David Moran (’45) and Cooper (free).
The winners would also finish with 14 men having used their full complement of subs prior to Michael Geaney’s black card. With their fifth consecutive victory of the league wrapped up and a first league semi-final appearance since 2012 nailed on, the focus switched back to Cork’s plight.
Healy’s charges had an anxious wait to see if Donegal had obliged in eking out a result against Monaghan which would keep the Rebels up. Monaghan, though, snuck victory and once this result filtered onto the field, the Cork players made the long walk back down the tunnel; their place at the top table gone following a hugely successful six-year residency.
The Roscommon nightmare at Páirc Ui Rinn was ultimately their undoing when the full fixture list is examined. Here, Kerry’s start was Cork’s downfall. Dominant at midfield and inside, Fitzmaurice’s charges wasted little time in putting scores on the board. At the other end, their half-back line, in which Killian Young held down the sweeper role, was the wall against which numerous Cork attacks crashed. A fine Kieran Donaghy point on eight minutes – the Kerry midfielder won a loose David Moran pass he had absolutely no claim to – was followed by a further seven points without reply; Stephen O’Brien, Colm Cooper (0-3), Johnny Buckley, Mark Griffin and Alan Fitzgerald (free) dancing a merry jig around a troubled Cork rearguard.
The visitors would fail to score from play in the opening half and their first-half woes were neatly summed up when Brian Hurley, having fielded a decent ball by Kerrigan, was forced out near the sideline by Mark Griffin and Shane Enright before being penalised for over-carrying.
Indeed, were it not for an injury time Colm O’Neill penalty, arriving as it did from a Peter Crowley foul on Ian Maguire, Kerry would have been out the gap; 0-11 to 1-5 the interval scoreline.
Cork spent the early stages of the second period chipping away at Kerry’s advantage, Hurley kicked their first from play on 38 minutes, and three on the bounce from Kerrigan, Brian O’Driscoll and Hurley (free) had them level on 59 minutes. Kerry grew frustrated during this period following a number of highly contentious refereeing calls from David Gough, not least the free given against Colm Cooper for over-carrying on 40 minutes, and subsequent yellow card for dissent.
Composure was kept, though. Another area, mind you, where Cork were found wanting.
C Cooper (0-6, 0-3 frees); A Fitzgerald (0-5); F Fitzgerald, B O’Sullivan, M Ó Sé, M Griffin, K Donaghy, D Moran (0-1 ’45), J Buckley, D Walsh, S O’Brien (0-1 each).
C O’Neill (1-3, 1-0, 0-3 frees); B Hurley (0-6, 0-4 frees); P Kerrigan, D Goulding, B O’Driscoll (0-1 each).
B Kealy; S Enright, M Ó Sé, P O’Connor; M Griffin, P Crowley, K Young; K Donaghy, D Moran; P Murphy, D Walsh, J Buckley; S O’Brien, C Cooper, A Fitzgerald.
F Fitzgerald for O’Connor (blood sub, 17 mins), P O’Connor for F Fitzgerald (HT), F Fitzgerald for Crowley (bc, HT), B O’Sullivan for Buckley (51), BJ Keane for A Fitzgerald (54), J Lyne for Griffin (62), M Geaney for D Walsh (66), T Walsh for O’Brien (67)
R Price; E Cadogan, K Crowley, D Hazel; T Clancy, K O’Driscoll, B O’Driscoll; I Maguire, S Kiely; C O’Driscoll, M Collins, R Deane; P Kerrigan, C O’Neill, B Hurley.
L Connolly for Deane (42), D Goulding for O’Neill (55), F Goold for C O’Driscoll (63), M Shields for Cadogan (63)
D Gough (Meath).