Kerry's dominance over Cork has taken the edge off one of football's greatest rivalries

Kerry's dominance over Cork has taken the edge off one of football's greatest rivalries
Cork captain Niall Cahalane celebrates with manager Billy Morgan following the Munster final win over Kerry in 1995 at Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IN the 1995 Kerry-Tipperary Munster football semi-final, Kerry racked up one of their biggest scoring totals in years, nailing Tipp with 7-12 in a thumping 17-point win.

Johnny Crowley scored 2-1 that afternoon. Crowley, who had been impressive for UCC in their Sigerson Cup victory earlier that season, reflected the new and dynamic breed of emerging young Kerry players; Mike and Liam Hassett, Dara Ó Cinnéide, Darragh Ó Sé.

After running Cork to three points in the previous year’s Munster semi-final, Kerry went into that 1995 final pumped and confident, especially with the game on in Killarney.

Kerry got the ideal start, with a goal from Eamonn Breen inside two minutes, but Cork soon took over, especially with Danny Culloty and Liam Honohan dominating midfield.

Cork had such a stranglehold on the Kerry kickout that the Kerry attack was starved of possession. Crowley, who had barely touched the ball in the first half, was taken off at half-time. On his way out of the ground after the game, a Cork supporter sidled up to him. 

“You’re playing senior now boy,” he said to Crowley.

Although Cork had also a liberal sprinking of youth that afternoon, starting four (and finishing with five) of the team which had won the previous year’s All-Ireland U21 title, Cork still gave the impression that a team of hardened men had put Kerry in their place. Again.

It was Cork’s third successive championship victory against Kerry, while it was also their seventh championship win over their neighbours in just nine seasons.

Kerry's Darragh Ó Sé battling Cork in the 1995 Munster football final at Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
Kerry's Darragh Ó Sé battling Cork in the 1995 Munster football final at Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

It’s almost 25 years (last Thursday was the anniversary) since that glorious Cork victory. It is still memorable in Cork for a number of reasons; Cork over-turned a two-point deficit in the last quarter with six unanswered points in a blistering seven-minute spell; they limited the Kerry starting forwards to a paltry 0-4 from play; Fitzgerald Stadium was bursting to the seams that afternoon but the memory is still magical for Cork because it was Cork’s last time beating Kerry in the championship in Killarney.

Since then, Cork have failed to win any of 13 championship games against Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium; they have drawn five and lost eight, which is in marked contrast to the 1987-'95 era when Cork won three times and drew once in Killarney.

In the storied history of the Cork-Kerry rivalry, the pain has never been more acute for Cork, especially when having to travel across the border; in the sides last championship meeting in Fitzgerald Stadium in 2017, Kerry recorded their biggest victory over Cork in Killarney since 1982.

Cork kept Kerry down in 1995 but they couldn’t keep rowing back a raging tide and Kerry turned them over in their following two championship seasons. The next time Cork and Kerry met again in Killarney, in the 1998 Munster semi-final, nobody underlined how much Kerry had sprinted past Cork more than the outstanding Johnny Crowley, who kicked five points from play that afternoon.

Cork finally halted Kerry’s charge in 1999 but Kerry were back on top again in 2000. Twenty years on, the counties Munster semi-final match-up in this year’s championship will represent another significant landmark from that 2000 Munster semi-final – because it will be the first knock-out game between the two in Munster since.

The arrival of the qualifiers in 2001 completely changed the dynamic of the championship, but it certainly didn’t alter the history and rivalry between Cork and Kerry. That was really evident in their championship meetings in Killarney in the first ten years of the qualifier era, with the sides drawing there in 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2010.

In two of those seasons, Cork won the replay (2006 and 2009) but Kerry went on to win the All-Ireland. It was all the harder again for Cork to stomach when Kerry returned to defeat them along the way, in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final and the 2009 All-Ireland final. Cork also tasted that pain in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final replay, seven weeks after Cork had beaten Kerry in the Munster final.

The rivalry has lost some of that lustre now, primarily because of Kerry’s recent dominance over their great rivals, but it’s easy to forget now just how competitive the Cork-Kerry rivalry was in the first ten years of that qualifier era; between 2001-10, the counties met on 20 occasions, which was unheard of in the championship in such a short time-span. In three of those seasons – 2002, 2006 and 2009 – Cork and Kerry met on three occasions.

In the qualifier era, Cork-Kerry is by a distance the most frequent face-off, with 29 championship clashes in that time. However, if you identify the last Cork-Kerry championship clash of each summer of that period, the win count stands at a staggering 17:1 to Kerry. 

If you extend that sequence back to 1996, it doesn’t get any better for Cork; it stands at 20:2 In the last two decades, the only summer Cork played Kerry in the championship and remained unbeaten against them was 2012. Even when Cork won the All-Ireland in 2010, Kerry had still already beaten them in the Munster semi-final replay that June.

This year though, there are no second chances. If their Munster semi-final in November ends in a draw, the game will be decided by penalties. If Cork could dig out a win, they wouldn’t have to worry about Kerry coming back to haunt them again, like they repeatedly did in the 2000s.

Yet 25 years on from one of Cork’s most memorable victories over Kerry, a win this year against their great rivals would be the perfect way for Cork football to mark that anniversary.

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