Cork 2-4 Kerry 3-18
Driving back up the N20 on Saturday evening, Galway manager Kevin Walsh would be forgiven for gulping once or twice.
By the time he hit the M18, he might have reasoned that the damage inflicted by Ruairí Deane on the Kerry defence in those opening 10 minutes can be replicated- or bettered - by Damien Comer or Shane Walsh across the full 70.
But having witnessed what he and 27,673 others did in Páirc Uí Chaoimh there is surely trepidation in his heart.
Galway will challenge Kerry in the middle of next month, there is no doubt. What happens in Croke Park then shouldn’t be anything like last year’s quarter-final when Galway spurned a slew of goal chances or the no-show in 2014 when they were a speck in Kerry’s rear view mirror.
However the certainty is the manner in which Kerry have dismissed two Division 2 teams can’t be ignored.
Like against Clare in May, the game was all but won by half-time but Kerry pushed on. The 16 points scored in the second half in Killarney were followed up with 2-7 here. Cork managed just three points after the break, Luke Connolly’s 46th minute free their first score in 39 minutes.
Kerry led by double scores at the break - 1-11 to 2-1 - but the margin could have been 10 points more given Seán O’Shea’s shot rocketed off the bar, four wides and three shots that dropped short.
Like hyenas, Kerry lurked and preyed on the Cork kick-out and the tactic provided the opening for Stephen O’Brien’s fifth-minute goal, which followed Jamie O’Sullivan’s in the second.
More scores into the Blackrock End followed Mark Collins’ ninth-minute goal at the other as Cork struggled to get out of their half particularly from restarts.
“It’s something we’ve done in the past,” said Éamonn Fitzmaurice of Kerry’s full-court press.
“It’s something we’ve had success off at times. It’s something that we were maybe criticised for in the first league game this year, where Donegal got goals over the top. Like everything else with us, it’s a work in progress.”
Ronan McCarthy tipped his hat to the opposition’s ability to deny Cork momentum.
“Kerry obviously didn’t want us to run the ball out, blocked up the centre very well, worked very hard to stop us and we hadn’t enough people supporting the ball carrier when we came out with the ball. We got disjointed. And there was a big gap then between our full-forward line and our half-back line and midfield.”
Kerry continued to spread doubt in Cork heads when a misjudged pass proved fortunate for Paul Geaney to strike to the net in the 37th minute although David Clifford could have added another goal seconds later only for it to be deflected.
Peter Crowley too had a chance for a goal but his angle suited Mark White. Substitute Barry John Keane too had a shot parried but Geaney scrambled his second goal in the 69th minute and the drubbing was well and truly complete.
Where once Munster was a sort of end for Kerry, it is now nothing but a means, particularly when Galway are just three weeks away.
Asked about the significance of claiming a sixth provincial title and emulating the feat last achieved in the Golden Years era, Fitzmaurice admitted such records mattered little.
“No, not really. I think every year you just approach it and you go at it and you try and win it. You want to win the Munster championship. It’s where we’re from and then it gives you the direct route to Croke Park, where you want to go so no. We haven’t been thinking about records, we’re just delighted to be where we are now.”
Facing Connacht champions Galway, Kerry’s opening Super 8 game will be like an old All-Ireland semi-final: two unbeaten teams facing off. And Fitzmaurice knows Walsh and his men have learned as much if not more than he and Kerry have these last 11 months.
“They are a very different team (to last year). I think it’ll be a good test for us and for them to see where they’re at. They were very much in control of the league game in Tralee and it’ll be a different test but something we’ll definitely look forward to.”
As for Cork, their former and current Munster chairman Jerry O’Sullivan attempted to raise spirits in his post-match address before handing over the cup to Shane Murphy, pointing out they were still in the competition.
Rousing themselves for a qualifier on Saturday week following this result, this performance, though, will take some doing as it will supporters to back them facing Kerry anytime soon.
Scorers for Cork: M. Collins (1-1); J. O’Sullivan (1-0); L. Connolly (0-2, 1 free); P. Kelleher (0-1).
Scorers for Kerry: P. Geaney (2-5); S. O’Shea (0-4, 1 free, 2 45s), J. O’Donoghue (0-3, 1 free); S. O’Brien (1-0); D. Clifford, P. Murphy (0-2 each); G. White, B.J. Keane (0-1 each).
CORK: M. White; K. Crowley, J. O’Sullivan, S. Ryan; K. Flahive; S. White, S. Cronin, T. Clancy; A. Walsh, I Maguire (c); K. O’Driscoll, J. O’Rourke; M. Collins, R. Deane, L. Connolly.
Subs for Cork: J. Loughrey for S. Ryan (black, 21); P. Kerrigan for R. Deane (black, 35+1); P. Kelleher for J. O’Rourke, B. Hurley for K. O’Driscoll (both h-t); B. O’Driscoll for S. Cronin (58); C. O’Neill for A. Walsh (59).
KERRY: S. Murphy (c); J. Foley, P. Murphy, T. Morley; B. Ó Beaglaoich, P. Crowley, G. White; D. Moran, J. Barry; M. Burns, S. O’Shea, S. O’Brien; D. Clifford, P. Geaney, J. O’Donoghue.
Subs for Kerry: K. McCarthy for S. O’Brien (black, 26); D. O’Sullivan for M. Burns (h-t); M. Griffin for J. Foley (54); K. Donaghy for D. Clifford (55); B.J. Keane for J. O’Donoghue (59); K. Young for T. Morley (64).
Referee: C. Branagan (Down).
As a contest, this final was finished before Paul Geaney’s goal just over a minute into the second half but it sure put the tin hat on it. That Cork went almost 40 minutes without a score said it all about the powder-puff challenge they presented to Kerry.
For a defence that was almost pitiful in Division 1, Kerry have now conceded an average of 10 points in their two Championship games. They shouldn’t expect to enjoy themselves as much against Galway, though.
A sixth unbeaten Munster season for Éamonn Fitzmaurice and while he might have wanted an examination freshness will be a benefit going into their intense schedule in the coming weeks.
“I’m happy we won and I’m happy the lads have games under their belt. Don’t worry there’ll be plenty of tests so we’ll be ready for those as well.” BAD DAY They don’t come much worse for Cork, who like Clare before them, might have believed the green Kerry team could be startled. Jamie O’Sullivan and Mark Collins’ early goals only strengthened the visitors’ resolve.
Neither team seemed to have much concern in this department.
The likes of Shane Enright and Donnchadh Walsh will hope to feature in Kerry’s matchday 26- man panel when they return to Croke Park next month.
Kerry’s match-ups looked to be on the money even though Ruairí Deane was allowed far too much space to set up the two early Cork goals. Jason Foley did a good detailing job on Luke Connolly. Sam Ryan was going to have a long day on David Clifford had he remained on the field.
BEST ON SHOW
Paul Geaney’s goals may have come when the game was all but up for Cork but he was buzzing from the outset. David Moran was commanding in the middle and Gavin White and Paul Murphy impressed from the back. Cork captain Ian Maguire was valiant in a most humbling of defeats.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Ciarán Branagan appeared to be on the money for the opening two black cards although there was an element of harshness in adjudging Deane had committed a third-man tackle. There were grounds for deeming it a cynical foul but it was a cruel blow for Cork.
Galway on July 14 or 15 will be the first of three Super 8 games for Kerry in the space of four weeks, four in the space of five should they reach an All-Ireland semi-final. Cork await third round qualifier winners on Saturday, July 7.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved