Their focus was true. Kerry won a 79th provincial football title with plenty to spare yesterday and they looked honed and hungry doing it.
“They’re good, lads,” sighed Cork manager Peadar Healy afterwards. “They’ll take a bit of stopping in the All-Ireland series.”
It is well shy of a football duopoly in the championship, but anything that gets between Dublin and Kerry and an autumn reunion will be made of sturdy stuff.
Cork football, and the transition it’s undergoing, is not the sustained examination Kerry might have been looking for, but in this form, there are very few counties who could live with the league champions. They’re simmering nicely.
An injured Bryan Sheehan didn’t make the bench yesterday and the other thirtysomethings, Anthony Maher and Kieran Donaghy, looked anything but leggy.
They’ve grunt and guile in the half-forward line and they’ve a get-you-out-of-your-seat pairing up top too. Yesterday was only Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue’s 11th championship outing together but their 1-12 return is an indication of what’s in store for audiences if they stay healthy through the summer.
The front-row seats in the covered stand may not offer the panoramic vista of the plush seats in Fitzgerald Stadium but they are plum positions to catch a ground-level view of the eviscerating speed of mind and movement that Kerry’s two corner forwards display.
Though they are the one age (26) and worked in tandem at minor and U21 level, their lethal double act has been a thing of wistful memory since the 2014 All-Ireland final.
In the early minutes of both halves, when Kerry built their score with runs of 0-6 to 0-1, their sleight of hand and deft assists for one another had some in the crowd of 31,186 wondering were they watching a Penn and Teller cameo.
O’Donoghue has his shoulders all but bolted into place at this stage, so unfortunate has he been with recurring difficulties in the collarbone area, but a relatively uninterrupted 2017 has him thriving off a very solid base of fitness. He took several tumbles in scrimmages yesterday in Killarney but bounced out of every one.
On these pages Saturday, Colm Cooper employed his passion for Liverpool to query whether O’Donoghue was ready to go from Sturridge to Suarez, and he certainly had a Uruguayan swagger about him yesterday.
If he is the effervescent one, Geaney is the efficient one, another 1-5 yesterday for the most economical attacker in the country, even if he won’t be happy with the unconverted goal chance minutes before half-time, his effort smothered by Ken O’Halloran.
Afterwards Fitzmaurice referenced such spurned goal chances and late lethargy in an unconvincing effort to indicate Kerry may have slid into sloppiness, but when your team doesn’t wide a chance for the opening 42 minutes, it’s difficult to sustain such an argument.
Kerry’s constant anxiety that Cork will always be Cork is something that is embedded in the dressing room too, Fitzmaurice reminded us. There’s been enough underage beatings from across the county bounds to keep the Kingdom on their guard.
If that can be believed, it served Kerry well in the third quarter, when Cork returned after the interval break only four points adrift, 0-11 to 0-7. Within five minutes of the restart, Kerry had stretched their lead to a yawning nine points, and James O’Donoghue had been denied a goal by O’Halloran.
That ruthlessness has been advertised in Fitzmaurice’s decision to replace Donnchadh Walsh with the zippier offering of Stephen O’Brien, who gave the impressive Cork debutant Seanie Powter a different set of problems altogether and clipped over three second half points.
O’Brien delivered a splendid reason to start come the quarter-final, while Mikey Geaney and the evergreen Kieran Donaghy looked mad for road. Little wonder.
Their replacement roster is sprinkled with All-Ireland winning experience and the nascent talents of Sean O’Shea and Tom O’Sullivan, but it was the returning Johnny Buckley who caught the eye.
The Dr Crokes man has been tending a troublesome knee problem since the All-Ireland club win in March, but the way he hunted down the electric Seánie Powter in the second half and forced the blockdown says a lot about his and his colleague’s want.
Powter delivered one of Cork’s most encouraging performances before retiring with a hip issue, and Ian Maguire showed a clean pair of heels to David Moran once or twice, but the pieces are well short of knitting together for Peadar Healy.
Confidence and cohesion are still missing, and if the latter might come with games, confidence remains in short supply. Maguire was through on goal after 11 minutes but didn’t pull the trigger, though four points on the spin afterwards indicated that Cork were spoiling for a fight.
Nothing between the 24th minute and short whistle advertised the disappointment to follow from Cork’s point of view.
Five minutes after the break, they were inexplicably 0-16 to 0-7 in arrears and chasing shadows. What will disappoint Healy is his side’s inability to hang in there in the third quarter, that boxer’s instinct for survival.
Save the customary impact off the bench of Donncha O’Connor with five points, the Cork manager would have struggled to quarry any positives from the second period. Which is perplexing, given how encouraging the first was.
What’s important now is continuity, and eschewing the temptation to tinker again for the first game in the qualifier series.
For sure, if Colm O’Neill gets himself right, he is worth a start, and depending on the opposition Donncha O’Connor must come into consideration for a half at least.
But the individual defenders did better than the concession of 1-23 would suggest, and if Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan use the game as a platform to a bigger role next time out, then Cork should’t fear anything that will cross them.
What they must get, however, is a greater degree of constancy in what they bring to the game. Their ridiculous habit of dipping in and out of games borders on attention deficit.
A lengthy stoppage for a concussed Fionn Fitzgerald punctured any lingering air in the contest, Kieran Donaghy claiming the assist his graft merited for the game’s only goal from Geaney six minutes shy of the regulation 70.
Anything thereafter was only filling in the fringes, but it was reassuring to see Fitzgerald recovered enough to hoist the silver symbol of success with his Crokes clubmate Johnny Buckley afterwards.
By that stage, it’s debatable whether Fitzgerald or Cork needed the smelling salts more.