BY TOM LYONS
IS the Cork football glass half-empty or half full? Following Saturday’s result one might be tempted to say at least half full. There were many things to be admired about Cork’s display, especially when comparing it to last season’s Munster final and the early games of the national league.
But it was far from perfect and it was the imperfections that prevented Cork from recording a famous win over the Kingdom.
The general consensus before this final was that Cork would do well to hold the Kingdom to less than ten points. A performance was all that the Cork public seemed to be demanding. Very few, if any, of the Cork fans really expected a victory.
Our fears as Kerry raced into that early lead, with the vaunted full forward line sparkling and the speedy incursions of the Kerry backs out of defence, were growing by the minute.
But, unlike last season when Cork collapsed like a punctured balloon, this time they began to show some fight and resistance.
Unfortunately, the missed scores were to cost us dearly at the finish. Cork weren’t caving in this time and even though clear goal chances were missed by Mark Collins and Ruairi Deane, the goal that lifted all the Cork crowd did arrive. It should have been a penalty for Collins but justice was done when Luke Connolly tapped Deane’s pass to the net. And it was again the surging runs of Deane that were causing a suspect Kerry defence to panic when going backwards. Superb going forward, they certainly don’t like being put on the back foot.
Six points separated the teams at the break, Cork having played against the breeze, and truth to tell, the hope was rising among the supporters.
Full credit to this battling Cork side who have been through the wringer this season and lost the support of all but their most loyal supporters. They believed in their own ability and really put it up to Kerry in the second half when Killian O’Hanlon’s surging run resulted in a penalty, superbly converted by Connolly, and Brian Hurley tipped a high centre to the net. The Kerry defence was leaking goals like a Dingle fisherman’s net and Cork were flying.
Level pegging and playing well, we dared to dream, especially when Paul Geaney got his marching orders. However, Cork never really made full use of the extra man, the Kerry forwards were picking off scores just a little too easily and the Cork substitutions failed to provide the winning push.
The loss of a target man when Brian Hurley departed seemed a bad move by the selectors and when the final whistle blew, it was Kerry in front by three. Little wonder many of the Cork players threw themselves on the ground in despair at the final whistle. They knew they had this game for the taking but let a stumbling Kerry off the hook.
A great chance lost? Yes, because of the first-half misses. Despite sterling performances from the Cork backs, those Kerry forwards had the touch of class that Cork lacked and that was the real difference in the end.
There was much to admire about Cork’s performance. Marvellous displays by goalkeeper Mark White, the two young wing backs, Liam O’Donovan and Matthew Taylor, and the wily warrior James Loughrey meant Kerry got nothing easy in attack and their stars didn’t shine as brightly as expected.
Midfielders, Ian Maguire and Killian O’Hanlon, put in a huge shift in the middle third, cutting off the supply of ball especially in the second half, while up front Brian Hurley kept his fine form going as the target man, while Ruairí Deane was again a tower of strength and Sean White played a lot of ball.
Yes, Cork had faults that must be rectified. Too many easy points from frees by Sean O’Shea, a bit too lateral in the middle third giving Kerry time to funnel back in numbers, the failure to take some gilt-edged chances in the first half and the failure to avail of the extra man in the last quarter.
However, it was the battling, never-say-die quality of this Cork display that will be remembered by fans. Cork badly needed this display to revive interest in the team and to get back some support. They did the jersey proud on the night and even though we are heartily sick of moral victories, this was a display rich in promise for the future.
There’s life in the Rebels yet.