By Tony Leen, Fitzgerald Stadium
Kerry 2-15 Cork 3-12
A madcap Munster football final ended with Cork players down on their knees, head in hands, not because they failed to perform again in Killarney — but because they had and were still denied a 38th provincial title by an outrageous equaliser from Kerry defender Fionn Fitzgerald.
The bomb from downtown was in keeping with a second half of twists and turns that will do little for the sleep patterns of the respective managers, but was a welcome slugfest nonetheless.
Kerry twice looked like they had quelled Cork’s spikey resistance, but throughout the game, the Rebels carried a genuine goal threat — running at the Kerry defence with a pace that exposed a worrying chink in the armour of the All-Ireland champions.
Wing back Barry O’Driscoll was Cork’s X Factor, and it was his 63rd-minute goal that catapulted the visitors into a winning position, 3-12 to 2-14, after Michael Shields had burst through the heart of the Kerry defence.
Cork had a couple of chances, spurned, to put two scores between the sides, and they paid a harsh price when Fionn Fitzgerald landed a superb equaliser in the 72nd minute.
Back to Killarney so on Saturday week, July 18th, for the replay — a fixture that will surely create havoc now with the county championship programmes in both counties.
Kerry had turned an early deficit into a four point half time lead, 1-8 to 1-4 but an excellently worked goal from Cork’s Donncha O’Connor three minutes after the break put the final back in the melting pot.
It says much for the fitness regime of Pat Flanagan with Cork that O’Connor (now aged 34) could outpace the Kerry defence to palm the ball to the net.
By the 50th minute Cork were 2-11 to 1-11 ahead, but three minutes later Kerry were awarded a questionable penalty (on first viewing).
James O’Donoghue dispatched it with aplomb to level the game again.
The shapelessness of the early first-half exchanges reflected the modern disdain for formation and convention.
Cork dropped Paul Kerrigan behind the halfway line to augment the defensive work of his half forward colleague Kevin O’Driscoll.
The first-quarter skirmishes indicated the ploy was working for the visitors.
They left Colm O’Neill and one other forward up top to keep Kerry honest — varying between Mark Collins, Donncha O’Connor and, primarily, Brian Hurley.
Their attacking raids were sporadic though incisive for all that.
When Collins raided down the right in the 12th minute, he wasn’t given the respect of tight marking and his cross found O’Connor who teed up O'Neill for the game’s first of five goals.
The fun was only starting.
Scorers for Kerry: J O’Donoghue (1-2, 1-0 pen), B Sheehan (0-4, 3 frees); BJ Keane (0-3, 1 free); K Donaghy (1-0); J Buckley, D Walsh, C Cooper, P Geaney, A Maher, F Fitzgerald (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill (1-6, 0-4 frees); D O’Connor (1-3, 0-2 frees); Barry O’Driscoll (1-1); K O’Driscoll (0-2).
KERRY: B Kealy; S Enright, M Ó Sé; K Young, P Crowley, J Lyne; D Moran, B Sheehan; S O’Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; BJ Keane, K Donaghy, J O’Donoghue.
Subs for Kerry: A Maher for D Moran (black), C Cooper for S O’Brien (both 43); D O’Sullivan for J Buckley (48); P Geaney for BJ Keane (51); J Sherwood for B Sheehan (61); P Murphy for P Crowley (65).
CORK: K O’Halloran; J Loughrey, E Cadogan, S Cronin; Brian O’Driscoll, M Shields, Barry O’Driscoll; A O’Connor, K O’Driscoll; P Kerrigan, M Collins, F Goold; C O’Neill, D O’Connor, B Hurley.
Subs for Cork: P Kelly for A O’Connor (blood, 21-23); P Kelly for P Kerrigan (black, 23); C Dorman for S Cronin (59); R Deane for F Goold (61); D Goulding for D O’Connor (62); C O’Driscoll for B Hurley (67); J O’Sullivan for C O’Driscoll (black, 70+2).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)