Analysis: Breaking down how Cork pulled off a staggering upset against Kerry

Analysis: Breaking down how Cork pulled off a staggering upset against Kerry

Kevin Flahive celebrates after the game with goalkeeper Micheál Martin. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

IN the last minute of extra-time at an empty Páirc, Cork need a score to take it to penalties and have been working the ball through hands looking for an opening.

Cork haven’t beaten Kerry in eight years. Sean Meehan is making his debut and after 90 minutes of football, has the gumption and legs to carry the ball past tackles and the Kerry defensive line. Luke Connolly has never beaten Kerry in championship.

He’s already missed a few shots but has nailed three lovely crucial scores as well and isn’t about to lose wondering what if. He forces the distance, though slightly off-balance, and the shot goes way up in the air, landing around the Kerry goalmouth.

Mark Keane is home from Australia during the AFL off-season, wasn’t expected to be even togging out, has never played for Cork seniors, never scored for Cork, and his impact on the game since coming on second half has been limited to be generous.

Mark Keane of Cork catches the throw-in for extra time ahead of Jack Barry and David Moran of Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mark Keane of Cork catches the throw-in for extra time ahead of Jack Barry and David Moran of Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

He catches the ball in the square, turns and slots the most magnificent of game-changing, season-changing, era-changing, county-changing goals you’re likely to imagine. Kerry are out. Cork have their biggest of statement wins.

Fair reward for the boldness of a management who targeted how to win this game and a group of players who everybody (themselves included at times) had doubts about having the belief to actually beat Kerry. Cork won with pure bloody-mindedness and the bravery to keep on having a go.

The possibility had been bubbling away all game, in truth. Cork came out with the levels of aggression and intent to make the game as awkward and uncomfortable for Kerry as possible, a Kerry let’s remember, that were being spoken about as the only team that could really take Dublin out.

If there was this feeling that Kerry had it in them to pull away and nick scores that little bit easier with the class of Clifford (if that goal chance in the second half went in, it was probably good night) and Killian Spillane, then Cork’s refusal to lie down must have created little doubts in Kerry’s mentality. We spoke all week about Cork needing to make it a battle and they did.

Conditions helped, turning every contact into a potential turnover. Ronan McCarthy’s team clogged spaces for runners, got in faces to put pressure on every ball, hunted in packs, forced mistakes and turnovers, and just never allowed Kerry find any fluidity in moving ball into the scoring areas.

David Clifford of Kerry kicks a free. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Clifford of Kerry kicks a free. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

There were lots of errors in handling and it was hardly pretty football from either side but even when Cork lost a bit of tempo in their tackling and work-rate from sheer exhaustion in extra-time, there was never a sense that heads had dropped or that they stopped thinking a win was possible.

In possession, Cork mixed long spells of probing and patience with an inability at times to create chances. There were moments of quality, though. Connolly came in, missed chances, took shots on, but mostly kicked three huge points on a day every single score was huge.

The Cork sideline shouted for Cork to keep the ball moving and there were several occasions where Cork kept the ball for more than a minute, working the ball back and forth to try and find a space or a runner to carry the ball into the scoring zone. Score number two was a long passage of Cork possession until Kevin Flahive made a burst to create the shot for Mark Collins.

In the last play of normal time, Connolly kick-passed a free backwards in the 69th minute; more than three minutes of possession and 39 passes later, Sean Powter got fouled for the equaliser. Another night, that might have been an example of lack of will to take a shot or inability to create; as Cork managed to get the score it goes down as Cork keeping their heads when the game was slipping away.

Paul Murphy blocks a shot by Sean Powter. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Paul Murphy blocks a shot by Sean Powter. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Mostly it was sheer bravery and attitude. Powter made a few huge tackles and turnovers, barging over Ronan Buckley at one stage, nabbing the ball from Steven O’Brien at a vital stage, finding time to score as well. The middle eight never stopped running and working. In the end it was the sort of bedlam you’d expect from the most remarkable win of the craziest of years already.

Kerry management and players looked like the sky had fallen in on them. Cork celebrated at home with the sort of emotion that hasn’t been around a lot this year, an explosion of happiness. Football might be a game of tactics and possession and scoring zones and there’s really no explanation for a result like this with pure analysis.

Cork made up for an age of inferiority by finally believing that anything was possible and finding the sweetest of ways to win a game against Kerry again.

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