WITH seven minutes remaining in the second half of extra-time of Sunday’s Munster final, when Cork were trailing by two points, TV co-commentator Kevin McStay said that the only way for Cork to probably beat Kerry was with a last-minute goal, when Kerry would have no time or opportunity to recover.
For as long as anyone can remember, Tadghie Murphy’s late goal in the 1983 Munster final has always been the reference point for what McStay spoke about. The iconic moment remained deeply encrypted into the minds of football supporters everywhere, even outside of Cork, because of the way in which that goal halted Kerry’s relentless crusade.
Kerry were vulnerable after losing the five-in-a-row to Offaly in the previous year’s All-Ireland final but Cork rattled into Kerry until Murphy finally delivered the knockout punch.
Thirty-seven years on, there were so many echoes from that Cork performance on Sunday. The players battled like warriors all afternoon. Cork fronted up and stared Kerry in the eye from the first whistle, never taking a backward step. In the end, McStay was proven right; Mark Keane’s goal knocked Kerry out cold just before the final bell.
In other ways, the narrative is also slightly misleading in that Cork weren’t completely relying on one final Hail Mary goal chance, even though that’s the way it worked out. As time ran out, Cork remained faithful to their philosophy all afternoon; they stayed patient and composed and held onto possession.
Seán Meehan could have shot but he recycled the ball and Cork got it to the right shooter in Luke Connolly. His attempt at an equaliser dropped short into Keane’s arms but the way in which Cork engineered the score perfectly encapsulated their bravery, composure and belief.
Mark Collins’ point just before the first water-break underlined all those traits, while also effectively scripting the story of the game. Kerry had retreated deep into defence, but Cork held onto possession for one minute and 28 seconds, stitching 21 passes back and across the field before the opportunity finally opened up for Collins to shoot.
Up to that point, Kerry had created 8 shots to Cork’s three but the sides were still level at 0-2 each. And that’s largely how the game continued to play out; at the end of normal time, Cork retained possession for two minutes and 23 seconds before Seán Powter won the free for Collins to equalise.
The weather was a huge factor and, while Kerry were also untypical Kerry in how they set up, the game was still largely played on Cork’s terms. A fast-paced, free-flowing shootout was always going to suit Kerry but, once Cork turned it into a fractured dogfight, Cork had more dogs-of-war.
The theory beforehand was that Cork would need goals to win but, while they eventually got the decisive green flag, Cork were always going to have to be more efficient and accurate than Kerry. And they were; Kerry did have seven more scoring chances but they only had a 43% conversion rate compared to Cork’s 57%.
In the dire weather conditions, turnovers were always going to be decisive and Cork’s composure was apparent in that stat; Cork turned the ball over just 23 times, while they forced 10-turnovers-in-possession off Kerry.
Cork’s bravery was also evident in their kick-out. Unlike last year when Cork elected to build their running game from the platform of their short sickout, Micheál Martin went long with 22 of his 23 kick-outs as Cork wanted to engage Kerry higher up the pitch by trusting their ball-winners and scavengers around the middle.
Kerry did win nine of Martin’s kick-outs, but they only sourced two points off that possession, which was a trade-off Cork would have been willing to take beforehand.
Cork were brave in everything they did. Young and inexperienced players were given huge jobs but those players more than repaid that trust shown in them by management, especially Maurice Shanley and Seán Meehan.
Shanley couldn’t have been handed a harder task on his debut than trying to tie down David Clifford but Shanley was very impressive, doing as well as could have been expected; Clifford kicked three points from play but that total was even more manageable for Cork when Clifford made 19 plays over the 90 plus minutes.
Seán O’Shea and Tony Brosnan made a combined 30 plays but they only scored two points from that possession. Brosnan was fouled for four frees but Clifford was uncharacteristically profligate from a couple of key placed balls.
The dynamic of the game could have changed if Clifford’s rocket hadn’t crashed off the outside of the post early in the second half but keeping a clean sheet was even more paramount in the conditions, particularly when Cork couldn’t afford a deficit of more than two points to open up at any stage. Martin also deserves huge credit for his early save from Brian Ó Beaglaoich.
Cork had heroes everywhere; Ian Maguire showed huge leadership; Killian O’Hanlon was immense from 39 plays; Collins had a big game from 28 plays; Ruairí Deane stormed into the match, making 21 plays; Powter was electric throughout. Cork’s depth off the bench was underlined by the impact of Keane, while Luke Connolly was brilliant from 14 plays, combined with his accuracy from placed balls.
On a memorable afternoon, every Cork player contributed to an epic win. But it was also a victory for smart planning, organisation, excellent management, brilliant coaching and belief in the gameplan, which the players carried out to perfection.
And after seven years without a championship win against Kerry – similar to the period between 1975-’82 – Cork, and everyone else, can also now refer to Mark Keane as the new Tadghie Murphy.