Cork 5-15 Kerry 2-10
One can only surmise what stirred the half-time rehydration in the home dressing room, but Cork got busy in a hurry after the interval to streak past Saturday’s Munster final challenge of Kerry without so much as a backwards glance.
A forward line sprinkled with the craft and finishing power that Ephie Fitzgerald possesses is doing itself a disservice if it’s not pushing for September, but for 30 minutes on Saturday they looked ponderous and static in Cork IT.
Kerry endured an embarrassing spring but under new management and progressive coaches they’ve made bounding strides in the past six weeks.
The pity was that Saturday, they showed nothing like their best, and though the shoulder injury that ruled out star turn Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh was a serious blow, her absence can’t explain the poor handling and unforced errors with the ball they were guilty of when Cork upped the ante after half-time.
Fitzgerald has overseen a substantial turnover of talent in the past year but 4-10 in a blistering second period tells its own story. Feeding Saoirse Noonan into the forward mix after half-time was the catalyst for an exhibition of movement and good decision making with the ball.
Captain and leader Ciara O’Sullivan and Leaving Cert student Noonan shared four second-half goals as Kerry wilted disappointingly. Ní Mhuircheartaigh is their attacking pivot and without her, the Kingdom attack looked utterly rudderless even if Sarah Houlihan grafted til the end.
No such worries for Ephie Fitzgerald, who has three O’Sullivans, Orla Finn, Orla Farmer and Libby Coppinger to make magic. And that’s before Noonan adds spice to the mix.
“The blitz for the first 15 minutes of the second half was typified by Ciara,” Fitzgerald explained.
“Some of her runs were impossible to stop. We got 4-9 in the second half which is some scoring, but Ciara is a serious, class player and a class person. She is our leader on and off the pitch. When Ciara talks everyone listens, including myself. Saoirse is one of those players we are blooding in this campaign and they will be good assets going forward.”
Five of Cork’s attack on Saturday played in the 2016 All-Ireland final, so their nose for goal and experience in tight spots is obvious. However, no-one in red was dousing Kerry’s first half feistiness, a subject which dominated the interval discussion in the Cork changing room.
“The big word at half-time was pressure, we just weren’t getting onto the Kerry players and the kickouts in the first (half). No matter how things would go after, we asked that they put Kerry under massive pressure on their own ball in the second half,” said the Cork manager.
Fitzgerald’s point on winning the 50-50’s is relevant. Kerry were falling off tackles after the break, though one expects they will improve their conditioning as time allows them.
“We are better than that,” said a disconsolate Kerry manager Eddie Sheehy after.
“We enjoyed quite a good first half, but Cork were better in the second, they pushed upon us. We lost the ball too easily at times and got punished for it. We are a work in progress, we are not normally like that. A Munster final, with new players, the occasion probably got to them a small bit.”
Houlihan’s well taken 12th-minute goal gave Kerry a 1-3 to 1-1 early edge and a speculative effort from Amy Foley found its way past Cork keeper Martina O’Brien to give them a strong foothold at the break (2-6 to 1-5), though their tendency to funnel the ball down dead-end alleys frustrated their followers.
Lorraine Scanlon was a force at midfield, but on the other side, Kerry struggled to handle the hard-running pace of Ashling Hutchings.
That Cork trait multiplied after the break as the Mourneabbey O’Sullivans got to work.
With Noonan a dangerous foil, Ciara O’Sullivan pierced the heart of Kerry’s backline twice, winning a 33 rd minute penalty that Noonan converted, and netting herself in the 40th minute for a 4-7 to 2- 7 lead. Kerry’s fitness and resistance were wilting simultaneously.
“We were very conscious we didn’t do ourselves justice in Munster last year so we were very determined to win today, a first title for a lot of these girls,” Fitzgerald pointed out.
One would still expect Kerry, with Ní Mhuircheartaigh back, to use Saturday’s chastening second 30 as a springboard for improvements in the Qualifier group with Tipperary and Ulster champions Donegal.
Cork meanwhile are paired with Armagh and Monaghan, but their ambition extends beyond that.
Scorers for Cork: S Noonan (2-2, 1-0 pen), C O’Sullivan (2-0), H Looney (1-0, pen), A O’Sullivan (0- 4), O Finn (0-3), D O’Sullivan (0-2), A Hutchings, L Coppinger (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kerry: S Houlihan (1-4, 3 frees), A Foley (1-2), L Scanlon (free), E Dineen, B Ryan, K O’Sullivan (0-1 each.) CORK: M O’Brien; C Collins, R Phelan, E Spillane; M O’Callaghan, M Duggan, S Kelly; A Hutchings, O Farmer; H Looney, D O’Sullivan, L Coppinger; A O’Sullivan, C O’Sullivan, O Finn.
Subs: S Noonan for O Farmer (half time), B O’Sullivan for A O’Sullivan (47), O Farmer for L Coppinger (55), A Kelleher for R Phelan (57), A Barrett for C Collins (59).
KERRY: L Fitzgerald; L Coughlan, S Murphy, E Lynch; D Kearney, A Desmond, A O’Connell; L Scanlon, A Brosnan; A Foley, S Burns, E Dineen; A Murphy, E O’Leary, S Houlihan.
Subs: B Ryan for S Burns (half-time), K O’Sullivan for L Coughlan (41), S Lynch for E O’Leary (47), A O’Callaghan for A Murphy (51) , D Geaney for E Dineen (59).
Referee: T Fox (Tipperary).
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