Five things we learned about the value of a replay.
First and foremost, the value of facing Cork twice in the Munster championship cannot be underestimated. Much like Kerry used last year’s 12-point provincial final win to propel themselves to All-Ireland success, this latest derby win can prove a similar launchpad. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s ruthless streak was widely publicised in light of the raft of changes he made to his line-ups for both games against Cork.
But the far more important issue was that Kerry clearly weren’t settled and Fitzmaurice needed the extra game to nail down his strongest team. They lived dangerously and required Fionn Fitzgerald to bail them out in the drawn game but are so much better for the extra 70 minutes. Bryan Sheehan, for instance, thrived when returned to attack and Paul Geaney did a great job inside. At midfield, the All-Ireland winning axis of David Moran-Anthony Maher was restored on Saturday and looked wholly sound again.
Notwithstanding the crux of point 1 — that Fitzmaurice took until high summer to decide on his best team — his continued search for improvement at the risk of alienating big reputations and large characters is admirable. There was a fear when he took over that having played with many of the present players, he may be too close to make the hard calls.
But if it wasn’t already clear by dropping Colm Cooper, the decision to call Kieran Donaghy ashore on Saturday was another insight into the manager’s immense character and self- belief. Form is all that matters to the All-Ireland-winning boss. Reputations won’t stand in the way of his search for it.
It was hard not to get all giddy last winter and consider a potential Kerry forward line in 2015 that contained the supreme talents of Cooper, Donaghy, O’Donoghue and the returning Tommy Walsh, not to mention Darran O’Sullivan. Yet when it came to the crunch in Killarney, free-taker Bryan Sheehan and the wildly under-rated Paul Geaney were the players who bailed them out, with 1-9 of their 1-11 haul.
In truth, it was a victory primarily crafted upon a strong defensive display and, a lot like last year’s All-Ireland final, Kerry again showed an ability to defend with purpose and poise on the biggest of occasions. Shane Enright effectively took Brian Hurley out of the game while the recalled Paul Murphy and point-scorer Jonathan Lyne all impressed. Of Cork’s 1-6 tally, just 1-3 came from open play. That’s just the sort of miserly defending that wins All-Irelands.
All things being equal, and even accepting the difficulties of a seven-day turnaround, Cork should have too much for Kildare next weekend in Round 4A of the qualifiers. The strong sense with 15 minutes to go in Killarney was that Cork had already checked out and were eyeing up that game as a route to championship redemption.
But if they do beat Kildare, an All-Ireland quarter-final with Dublin then awaits and may very well represent the end of the line. It’s only a few months since Dublin beat Cork by double digits in an Allianz league semi-final, after all. Considering that Kerry’s quarter-final opposition is Westmeath or Fermanagh, the value of winning the Munster title and taking the direct route forward is once again underlined.
Tomás Ó Sé was cursed to high heaven by his former Kerry team-mates last month for supplying Cork with precious Munster final motivation. Describing Cork — where he plays his own club football — as a “rudderless” team “from management down”, he probed the very hearts of the Cork players and manager Brian Cuthbert.
Speaking hours before Saturday’s replay, however, he stood over those comments, claiming that while Cork did draw the first game they faced a Kerry side well below par and were unable to close out that contest. Ó Sé may argue that Kerry didn’t exactly conjure their A game on Saturday either yet still advanced. In fact, Cork’s two-point haul in the second half when the game was in the melting pot lends credence to Ó Sé’s claim that if you apply the pressure “they’ll just lie down”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved