Put aside momentarily the gulf in strength and game experience between the two sides in Tralee yesterday. Any cursory examination of what Cork started with, brought on, didn’t use — or have away on club duty with Nemo Rangers — would lead one to conclude there’s impressive depth and breadth to the Cork football squad as 2020 looms.
A conclusion that manager Ronan McCarthy isn’t inclined to disagree with in the wake of a 22-point hammering, 6-19 to 2-9, of Kerry’s U20s in the McGrath Cup opener.
“What is interesting now is that we have a massive pick,” he mused afterwards. “On Thursday we face Tipperary and the likes of Mark Collins and Tom Clancy will get game time. There is real strength in depth now in the squad with the U20s coming through and the likes of (Sean) Powter, (Ciarán) Sheehan and Kevin Crowley all back from injury. We will be able to put out an equally good side against Tipp.”
This won’t be the last time readers will be advised how fundamentally important 2020 is for Cork football. Promotion from Division 3 is an imperative if they wish to put an end to the spectre of second tier championship football. The portents are encouraging.
Clearly the Tipp game later this week will offer something more rigorous in terms of how ready the new kids like Damien Gore (3-5 here) and Cathal O’Mahony are for the start of the Allianz League in a month’s time. Ditto Ciarán Sheehan, who’s got up to speed quicker in the six weeks he’s been back in the Cork set-up than manager McCarthy would have envisaged.
Kerry were light in every aspect, and if U20 manager John Sugrue sees the McGrath Cup as a “preparation platform” for the Munster Championship that starts in six weeks time, then that is the context in which they should be judged. Full-forward Donal O’Sullivan was the pick of their number, but he pulled up with a hamstring strain ten minutes before the finish. Mention too of St Senan’s midfielder Barry Mahony, who brought his man of the match form from the North Kerry final victory into a difficult afternoon against the pairing of Ian Maguire and Paul Walsh.
If there was a stone in Ronan McCarthy’s shoe last night, it was the bad hamstring injury suffered by luckless defender Nathan Walsh. The Douglas man has been beset by shoulder and hamstring problems and the Cork manager admitted he “wouldn’t be optimistic” on his latest setback after he was stretchered off in the opening minutes of the second half.
Cork’s link play from back to front was as productive as it was systematic with Sheehan and Sean White providing the outlet. Gore and O’Mahony feasted inside, claiming a whopping 4-9 between them.
“They are top quality, there’s no point in pretending otherwise,” said McCarthy.
“They have very bright futures, and they possess a great work ethic and attitude. However, we must be steady and give them time. If we are patient and keep doing the right things, they have the quality [to succeed].”
Cork ran amok after half time, which they began 1-16 to 0-5 in front. Indeed, four of those Kerry points came in the opening 12 minutes, and they went scoreless for 23 minutes before half time.
By the time Cork debutant Shane Forde grabbed Cork’s fifth goal on 63 minutes, Kerry had only accumulated two second-half points. Paul Walsh and Sean Quilter injected a thimble of feelgood into the Kerry post mortem with late goals — but the Kerry support in a healthy crowd of 1,585 had precious little in the way of Christmas cheer.
Ciarán Sheehan was one of 11 different Cork scorers, Gore claiming a second half hat-trick with 12 minutes remaining from the penalty spot. Seanie Powter finished off the rout with a sixth goal in the 67th minute.
Cork pressed high from the get-go, and when Kerry did go long from kickouts, they struggled to work around the power and dominance of Ian Maguire. “When we get our full squad together, then we will be looking at building confidence,” said Kerry manager Sugrue.
McCarthy’s Cork are well on the way in that regard.
Scorers for Cork: D Gore (3-5, 1-0 pen), C O’Mahony (1-4), S Forde, S Powter (1-0 each), S White, M Taylor, R Harkin (0-2 each), K Crowley, I Maguire, P. Walsh, C Sheehan (0-1 each)
Scorers for Kerry: S Quilter (1-2, 1 free), D O’Sullivan (0-3, 1 free), P Walsh (1-1), P. O’Shea (0-2), A Donoghue (0-1)
KERRY: B Lonergan (Ballymacelligott); ST Dillon (St Senan’s), J McCarthy (Kenmare), L Brosnan (Desmonds); D McCarthy (Kenmare), S O’Connell (Cordal), C Coffey (Kerins O’Rahillys); G Wharton (Kenmare), B Mahony (St Senan’s); R Buckley (Listry), P O’Shea (Kilcummin), A Donoghue (Desmonds); P Walsh (Brosna), D O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan), S Quilter (Austin Stacks).
Subs: T Sugrue (Tuosist) for Wharton (41), O Fitzgerald (Gneeveguilla) for Dillon 48), K Falvey (Annascaul) for Sugrue (58), S Og Moran for J McCarthy (62), D Rahilly (Rathmore) for D O’Sullivan (inj, 63).
CORK: A Casey (Kiskeam); M Shanley (Clonakilty), A Browne (Newmarket), N Walsh (Douglas); K Crowley (Millstreet), P Murphy (Bandon), M Taylor (Mallow); I Maguire (St Finbarr’s), captain, P Walsh (Kanturk); S Forde (Na Piarsaigh), S White (Clonakilty), R Harkin (Mallow); D Gore (Kilmacabea), C Sheehan (Eire Og), C O’Mahony (Mitchelstown).
Subs: P Ring (Aghabullogue) for Walsh (inj, 37), C Kiely (Ballincollig) for Taylor (50), S Powter (Douglas) for White (52), R Deane (Bantry) for Sheehan (54), B Hartnett (Douglas) for P Walsh (56).
Referee: D O’Mahony (Tipperary)