Four days after Kerry annexed the Munster senior and minor titles for a seventh consecutive summer, it was the turn of the county’s junior team to step into the spotlight, Jimmy Keane’s side retaining the provincial silverware for the sixth year in-a-row.
This evening also marked the sixth consecutive summer where the Kingdom have overcome neighbours Cork in the Munster junior decider and while there was little or nothing to separate them in recent years, this latest victory will surely go down as the sweetest given the litany of injuries which management was faced with when forced to assemble a brand new panel following the county's 2018 All-Ireland final win.
Brian Sugrue, Micheál Reidy, Daniel O'Brien, Brendan O'Sullivan, Liam Kearney, and Bryan Sweeney are but a selection of the players whom Keane had intended to be part of his Munster final panel only for injury to dictate otherwise.
Stepping up in their absence was 2014 and 2015 All-Ireland medal winner Stephen O’Sullivan. The Templenoe forward supplied 1-3, his goal so pivotal in eating into Cork’s four-point advantage shortly before half-time.
In truth, Cork never recovered from the concession of that 28th-minute major. Ahead by the minimum at the break, 0-9 to 1-5, the hosts failed to score for the opening 24 minutes of the second period - during which the winners reeled off seven without reply - and registered their one and only second-half point from play in the third minute of injury-time.
Where Kerry have bagged three Munster titles in almost as many days, Cork have come away empty-handed from the same three fixtures. A couple of sobering facts are that Cork have not beaten Kerry at junior level since 2011, while you’d have to go back to April 7 of 2016 to find the last time a Cork team, across all grades, beat Kerry in a championship fixture. That U21 win below in Tralee also represents the last bit of provincial silverware secured by a Cork football side.
This Rebel junior team were looking good to end that three-year title drought when opening up an 0-8 to 0-4 advantage by the 26th minute. From there, though, their evening went dramatically south.
Having been fed by corner-back Cian Ó Murchú, O’Sullivan took on - and beat - a number of Cork defenders before planting the ball into the left corner of Chris Kelly’s goal. The same player tapped a quick free to Michael Foley shortly after and within the blink of an eye the visitors were back on level terms.
Jimmy Keane’s charges could - and probably should - have moved in front in first-half stoppages as Daniel Daly and Chris Farley put through Brandon Barrett one-on-one with Kelly. The Cork goalkeeper, however, produced a fine save to prevent a second green flag.
Cork’s Eoin O’Shea finished out the half with a beautiful point kicked from the Boreenmanna Road sideline, but it was to prove their final score until the 54th minute of proceedings.
A brace from O’Sullivan nudged Kerry in front upon the restart and with their opponents committing the most basic of errors right throughout the field, the visitors surged clear thanks to points from Daly (0-3, two frees), O’Dwyer, and half-back Jack Brosnan.
Gary Murphy, who kicked three points during Cork’s bright opening and was by some distance the outstanding contributor in red, ended their long wait for a score when converting a 54th minute free. It was goals they needed, mind, and none were forthcoming from a Kerry rearguard effort led by Padraig O’Connor, Mike Breen, and Michael Foley.
“The 1-1 before half-time was crucial,” said winning manager Jimmy Keane.
“Stephen is a great goal poacher and we know if we can get the ball into him that he can do that. Cork crowded us for much of the first half and didn’t give us the space to get the ball into the likes of Stephen and Barry [O’Dwyer]. The one opportunity he got, he took it. It brought us right back into the game.
“We knew at half-time that Cork were going to throw everything they had at us in the second period. We knew if we could match them that we had the quality inside to get the necessary scores.”
The Kingdom, who are unbeaten at junior level since August of 2014, await the winners of the British final to see who they will meet in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Scorers for Kerry: S O’Sullivan (1-3); D Daly (0-4, 0-3 frees); B O’Dwyer (0-3); M Foley, J Brosnan, E O’Brien (0-1 ‘45), C Teahan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: G Murphy (0-4, 0-2 frees), A O’Connor (0-2 frees, 0-1 ‘45); F O’Connor, S Hickey (0-2 each), E O’Shea (0-1 each).
Kerry: E O’Brien (Churchill); C Ó Murchú (An Ghaeltacht), P O’Connor (Legion), PJ O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses); J Brosnan (Glenbeigh/Glencar), M Breen (Beaufort), M Foley (Ballydonoghue); JM Foley (Kilgarvan), N Breen (Beaufort); P O’Connor (Cordal), C Farley (Dromid Pearses), B Barrett (Ardfert); S O’Sullivan (Templenoe), D Daly (St Mary’s Caherciveen), B O’Dwyer (Waterville).
Subs: C Teahan (Glenbeigh/Glencar) for N Breen (bc, six mins); T Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds) for Barrett (53); J Crean (Annascaul) for Farley (58); J Spillane (Templenoe) for O’Dwyer (63).
Cork: C Kelly (Éire Óg); P Clancy (Fermoy), P Murphy (Bandon), G McCarthy (St Vincent’s); K Cremin (Boherbue), J Mullins (Éire Óg), G O’Callaghan (Gabriel Rangers); BT O’Sullivan (Garnish), P Walsh (Kanturk); F O’Connor (Knocknagree), A O’Connor (Knocknagree), S Aherne (Fermoy); G Murphy (Castletownbere), S Hickey (Rockchapel), E O’Shea (Éire Óg).
Subs: L Wall (Kilmurry) for O’Callaghan (23 mins); ST O’Sullivan (Garnish) for Aherne, T Corkery (Cill na Martra) for BT O’Sullivan (both 42); E O’Callaghan (Rockchapel) for Walsh (49); E Goggin (Gabriel Rangers) for O’Shea (55); G Kelleher (St Vincent’s) for F O’Connor (59).
Referee: D O’Callaghan (Limerick).