THERE was a multitude of reasons why Kerry won Wednesday night’s Munster U20 football title but Kerry’s second-last score in the 59th minute offered a neat snapshot of both why they won, and how Kerry turned the trend of the match in the second half.
Kerry were leading by three points when a long Cork kick-out from Cian O’Leary was fielded cleanly in the middle of the field by Paul O’Shea.
After claiming a mark, O’Shea immediately clipped a pass into the path of Darragh Lyne, who ran straight through the centre of the Cork defence. As the Cork cover arrived, Lyne passed the ball into Ruaidhri Ó Beaglaoich who fisted the ball over the bar.
Ó Beaglaoich had two options to his right for a goal chance but the young Gaeltacht player made the safer percentage play and nobody in the home crowd could argue with his decision.
Ó Beaglaoich was the best player on the pitch; as well as scoring two points from play, and one converted mark, Ó Beaglaoich was fouled for four frees, while he also had two assists.
The only other clear cut goal chance Kerry had on the night, Ó Beaglaoich had put the ball on a plate for Patrick Darcy. The shot was poorly executed but the green flag was prevented by some brilliant defending on the line by David Buckley and Colm O'Shea.
After that second-last Kerry score in the dying moments, O’Leary went short for the first time of the evening with his restart because he had no choice at that stage - Kerry had got a complete stranglehold on the Cork kick-out by then. In total, Kerry won nine of Cork’s 14 second-half kick-outs.
It had been a completely different story in the first half when Cork’s attacking platform had come off their own kick-out, when winning eight of their 10 restarts.
Cork’s goal in the 25th minute showed the faith they had in their long kick-out but it also offered a microcosm of how Cork wanted to play the match, and keep Kerry on the back-foot.
After the restart was contested by Jack Lawton, it was fisted forward by Brian Hayes before Aodhan Ó Luasa forced the turnover off Kerry defender Dylan Casey. The play created the opening for Blake Murphy, who took the ball around the keeper before cooly placing his shot beyond four scrambling Kerry defenders.
Cork were full value for their four-point lead at half-time. They had dominated possession but Kerry re-arranged their team and began hoovering up ball, in the air and on the deck, around the middle after the break.
When O’Leary was finally forced to go short, the game was effectively over, but Cork’s two late short kick-outs also underlined a key difference between the teams; on the four attacks Cork created from those two short restarts, they turned the ball over on four occasions.
Kerry had most of their players behind the ball by that stage but Cork turned over the ball too often on the night; in total, Cork had 30 turnovers while Kerry turned over Cork in possession on five occasions.
Cork’s style was admirably direct, and laced with good foot-passing and the intention to move the ball quickly, but turnovers are always a risk with that expansive style.
Kerry turned over possession plenty of times too (24 in total) but they finally found their range and polished their shooting as the game progressed; in the opening 30 minutes, Kerry’s conversion rate was just 36%; after the break it was 80%.
Cork’s scoring opportunities were heavily diluted when Kerry got a grip around the middle. After having 13 shots in the first half, Cork only got off eight shots after the break, converting just three. Overall, Cork’s conversion rate was just 48%, which was never going to be enough.
Cork’s inside forward line had looked really dangerous in the opening half but they were starved of possession once the supply inside dried up.
Mark Cronin landed two superb points after the break but they were both from distance as Cork’s forwards were forced to forage deeper for possession. Blake Murphy looked near-untouchable in the five minutes before the break but he was restricted to just four possessions in the second half, one of which was an excellent point while Murphy was also fouled for a free.
After his goal, Murphy landed an excellent point just a minute later before being fouled for a close-in free, and then following it up with another quality score just before the half time whistle.
Cronin had dropped that free into the goalkeeper’s hand but there was still a sense that Cork were finding their range, having nailed five of their last six shots of the half.
Cork were full value for their four-point half time lead but Kerry were a different team from the beginning of the second half, nailing six points from six shots, with Cork just replying with one point in that third quarter.
Kerry also ran their bench effectively, hauling big names off up front and replacing them with fresh and quality attackers.
The cracks were appearing in the Cork wall and the dam was creaking from Kerry’s relentless waves of attacks. When Kerry landed two points in quick succession between the 41-42nd minutes, it was telling that both scores had been sourced off Cork kick-outs.
Kerry had control of the match by then. And once they got ahead, Cork couldn’t stem the tide any longer.