Former All-Ireland winner gets his wish as Rebels rattle Kerry
By Kieran McCarthy
NOEL O’Leary was bang on the money. At the launch of the new Sam Maguires GAA 7s tournament in Dunmanway, the former Cork defender said he believed the current crop of footballers had a big performance in them.
If it’s tight going into the last ten minutes, Cork will rattle Kerry, O’Leary predicted.
This wasn’t an opinion shared by many. Cork were rank outsiders at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday. Kerry were going for seven Munster titles in a row. Seventeen points separated the teams last year. Very few gave Cork any hope this time around. But O’Leary did. He had a feeling.
On the same stage in the Parkway Hotel in Dunmanway sat Graham Canty. As a player the Bantry man demanded high standards. What Canty wanted on Saturday night, he said, was a performance.
The Cork footballers delivered.
After eight minutes it looked ominous. Kerry had already raced 1-3 to 0-0 ahead. Wing back Tom O’Sullivan scored a sixth-minute goal. Cork supporters would have been forgiving for thinking ‘here we go again’. There were brief flashbacks of last year’s final annihilation. But there were signs already that Cork had something to offer this game. While Mark Collins got Cork up and running with a ninth-minute free, the home side did miss three point chances in the opening ten minutes.
Turns out Cork would end up rueing missed chances. Turns out too, as the game developed, that they had a real chance of causing a huge upset here.
By the time Luke Connolly dragged a shot wide as he bore down on goal, Kerry had stretched their lead to 1-5 to 0-1 with Sean O’Shea and David Clifford doing the damage.
Then Ruairi Deane, the Bantry man who has become the leader of this young Cork team, burst through the Kerry defence but his shot was straight at Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan. That was another missed chance.
Deane did make amends minutes later when after a hop ball on the edge of the Kerry square, his pass teed up Luke Connolly to palm the ball home. 1-5 to 1-1. It was just what Cork needed.
Still, Kerry were more clinical and took their chances whereas the Rebels didn’t. Kerry finished the game taking 20 out of 25 scoring chances. Cork’s conversion record was a distant second best, 13/26. Room for improvement here.
Points from Tom O’Sullivan and the classy Clifford sandwiched a Collins free before the Castlehaven man, unusually for him, made the wrong decision when he was through on goal after 26 minutes.
Club-mate Brian Hurley was in a better position to Collins’ left but instead he took on the shot but was well blocked by Kerry full back Tadhg Morley.
‘I felt some of our decision-making was very poor,’ Cork boss Ronan McCarthy lamented afterwards.
‘We have been very good in recent months recycling the ball and being patient when the opportunity isn’t there. Kerry filter men back to fill the middle so you have to be patient and work the ball.
‘We snapped at our shots, we took shots from wrong positions and we should have recycled the ball at times, gone backwards and gone to the far side of the pitch. We didn’t do that and we paid for it at the other end.’
By the break Kerry led 1-10 to 1-4, had shot no wides and were stocked with more dangerous firepower – but they were vulnerable to a Cork team that highlighted the problems that exist in that Kerry defence. They struggle against direct teams. There were goals there for Cork.
Deane punched holes in the Kerry defence all night. The Kingdom struggled when Cork ran at them. There was power and pace to the Cork ball-carrying. And when Killian O’Hanlon ran through the middle of the Kerry defence early in the second half, he showed power, pace and strength before he was hauled down. Penalty. Connolly converted. It was now 2-4 to 1-11.
Collins 40th minute point was Cork’s first from play, and after Sean O’Shea and Sean White swapped scores, the gap was three, 2-6 to 1-12.
Cue another missed chance. Deane opened Kerry up. They couldn’t get to grips with him at all. Possibly, he could have passed earlier. Maybe he could have fisted over the bar. But his low shot hit off Jack Sherwood who knew very little about it.
One minute later, however, Cork were level. Brian Hurley had looked lively inside, and when a long ball in was dropping dangerously, Hurley got a deft flick to it, beating both the Kerry goalkeeper and full back who were caught out. 3-6 to 1-12.
The crowd responded. The noise drowned out the Marquee next door.
‘Rebels, Rebels, Rebels.’
Was a sensational win on the cards?
Cork will have a few regrets this week. They never hit the front after drawing level; instead Kerry scored five of the next six points with Clifford, Stephen O’Brien, Diarmuid O’Connor and O’Shea all on target. Cork didn’t take advantage either when Kerry were reduced to 14 men after Paul Geaney was red-carded in the 54th minute. Ultimately, as Ronan McCarthy said afterwards, Cork came to win the game, they didn’t, and there was a great sense of disappointment in the dressing-room afterwards.
But what they did do was show fight and spirit. They played with honour, McCarthy said.
Five minutes to go, Kerry led 1-17 to 3-7 but Cork kept coming. It was the same all game. Wing backs Mattie Taylor and Liam O’Donovan ran themselves into the ground, full back James Loughrey powered forward for a second-half point, Killian O’Hanlon got the better of Kerry in midfield, Mark White was assured in goal – plenty of positives.
Three points in a row from Collins saw the gap reduced to a single point, 1-17 to 3-10, with five minutes of injury time to play.
Kerry showed their cuteness and picked off two injury-time points to sneak home winners with three to spare. They’ll be relieved more than anything else.
Cork have given themselves another performance to build on. They’re starting to find a consistency. They’re moving in the right direction. They gave the performance that Noel O’Leary and Graham Canty both said was needed. Now Cork must go and do it again, but even better, in the fourth round of the All-Ireland qualifiers. They must build on the platform they have given themselves.
Cork: Mark Collins 0-8 (6f), Luke Connolly 2-0 (1-0 pen), Brian Hurley 1-0, Sean White, James Loughrey 0-1 each.
Kerry: Sean O’Shea 0-8 (6f), David Clifford 0-4 (1f), Tom O’Sullivan 1-1, Stephen O’Brien 0-2, Paul Geaney, Dara Moynihan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Micheál Burns 0-1 each.
Cork: Mark White; Nathan Walsh, James Loughrey, Kevin Flahive; Liam O’Donovan, Tomás Clancy, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Killian O’Hanlon; Paul Kerrigan, Ruairi Deane, Sean White; Mark Collins, Brian Hurley, Luke Connolly.
Subs: Kevin O’Donovan for Walsh (35, inj); Kevin O’Driscoll for White (58), Michael Hurley for B Hurley (58), Stephen Sherlock for Connolly (65), Aidan Browne for M Taylor (67), Stephen Cronin for Loughrey (68).
Kerry: Shane Ryan; Jason Foley, Tadhg Morley, Tom O’Sullivan; Paul Murphy, Jack Sherwood, Gavin White; David Moran, Jack Barry; Diarmuid O’Connor, Sean O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien; David Clifford, Paul Geaney, Dara Moynihan.
Subs: Gavin Crowley for Foley (42), Micheal Burns for Moynihan (49), Adrian Spillane for Barry (52), Brian O Beaglaoich for O’Connor (65), Mark Griffin for T O’Sullivan (67).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).