Regrets? They’ll have a few. Cork failed to deny Kerry their seventh provincial football title on the spin but finished the night at Páirc Ui Chaoimh with less questions to answer and more solutions found that their conquerors.
Where are we on Kerry? No-one can reasonably deny they deserved Saturday’s success – they butchered as many goal opportunities as Cork– but again they've an unconvincing whiff about them, that sense of it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night. One of the boy kings up front will bail them out.
The electricity at the top end of the field is still there for sure. But the stuff that wins championships and brings open top buses down Denny Street – graft, shape, poise, resilience, truculence, essentially a resolute chin, is not there yet. They may get there and Donie Buckley may help in that regard, but that men-in-the-trenches unity of purpose which framed the night in Tralee they defeated Dublin in the League, seems to be less evident as spring turned to summer.
It’s a question of balance. Paul Murphy will unquestionably get his sharpness back, but Kerry have defenders almost too good at playing ball and advancing menacingly. They need to be as resolute when the tide rolls in on them. Problems continue around the middle too and among others, Adrian Spillane must smell a starting opportunity in the Super 8’s.
The callowness and impetuosity of youth? Perhaps. Peter Keane reminded us afterwards that the half forward line – the salt mine of modern-day football – had an average age of 20. Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan and captain Gavin White might still need IDs for McSorley's.
They will need time and 2019 could prove more of a sophomore year. Kerry’s shape and solidity without the ball would want to undergo a remarkable transformation over the course of the All-Ireland series for them to be last men standing.
Being picked apart by fast hands and clever movement is one thing, but Cork didn’t have to be that enterprising to create three wholly presentable goal chances in the first half alone. Ronan McCarthy’s men netted three but still found themselves short another to recreate a Tadghie Murphy 1983-type moment at the Blackrock end in the closing stages.
By that stage, Kerry were down to 14 men following Paul Geaney’s 55th-minute dismissal and go figure - it was the period the Kingdom looked best structured defensively and most devastating on the break, with Stephen O’Brien coming into his own and Micheal Burns adding another outlet. Interesting.
Twenty scores is a healthy return from any provincial final, but it never looked enough to elevate them out of the maybe-on-their-day, if-everything-clicked category. There’s time for tweaking yes, but those afternoons seldom present themselves when everyone’s playing for keeps.
Kerry jumped 1-5 to 0-1 in front while Cork were still grinding into second gear and they were kicking confidence-sapping wides to boot. When people shrug their shoulders at League relegations, these are the costly pay-offs. Division One footballers think and act faster.
They are more clinical in clutch moments. Ruairi Deane shot straight at keeper Shane Ryan before he made amends by teeing up Luke Connolly for a 19th-minute goal. Eight minutes later, Mark Collins should have fed Brian Hurley for the finish but made a hero out of Kerry defender Tadhg Morley who blocked spectacularly from six yards out. “Usually Mark’s option-taking is very good,” Cork manager Ronan McCarthy lamented afterwards.
Kerry’s 1-10 to 1-4 interval lead didn’t flatter them, however. It was all quite shapeless and on the break, Cork continually lost Tom O'Sullivan and struggled to track other runners from deep. By times the champions looked irresistible, David Clifford most of all. Cork’s Kevin Flahive hounded him throughout but, with ball in hand, Clifford is untouchable.
Between them, Clifford and Sean O’Shea contributed 12 of Kerry’s 20 scores but that shines a light elsewhere. Though Peter Keane and co may wonder how they only finished the evening with one goal, the contributions of Paul Geaney, Dara Moynihan and to a lesser extent, Diarmuid O’Connor, were modest.
Cork’s midfield triangle was anything but. Ian Maguire led and Ruairi Deane has moved to another level this season, to the point where his manager believes him to be in the top ten players in the country – with the potential to make the top three. Whatever about that, his battle with Gavin White was intriguing. Cillian O’Hanlon wasn’t found wanting either and all three ran straight and with considerable success at Kerry.
The retention of possession is something Ronan McCarthy has spent much of 2019 finessing but, if anything, Cork were too protective of the ball once Brian Hurley had fisted a deflected Maguire shot for the equalising goal on 47 minutes. A bit of organised mayhem could have been stirred into the mix. More than once Maguire isolated himself one-on-one with Tadhg Morley on the edge of the Kerry square, but nobody in red called the play.
With no Hawkeye in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Stephen O'Brien got the rub of the green with a 57th minute point, though it wasn't the first, or the last time the officials, led by referee Anthony Nolan, frustrated the Cork crowd. Unofficial statistics put the free count at 27-12 in Kerry's favour. It all helped Cork football clear its throat.
*Match ratings (without the benefit of tv playback) are:
S Ryan 7; P Murphy 6, T Morley 7 J Foley 6; G White 7, J Sherwood 6, T O’Sullivan 8; D Moran 7 J Barry 5; D O’Connor 6, S O’Shea 7, S O’Brien 7, D Clifford 8, P Geaney 6, D Moynihan 6.
G Crowley 6, M Burns 7, A Spillane 7, B Ó Beaglaíoch 6, M Griffin NR.
M White 6, N Walsh 5 (inj), J Loughrey 7, K Flahive 7; L O’Donovan 7, T Clancy 6, M Taylor 6; I Maguire 8, K O’Hanlon 7; P Kerrigan 6, S White 6, R Deane 8; M Collins 7, B Hurley 6, L Connolly 6.
K O’Donovan 6, K O’Driscoll 6, M Hurley 6, S Sherlock 5, A Browne NR, S Cronin NR