Cork football rewatch: Final failure at Croke Park against Kerry still frustrates

Cork football rewatch: Final failure at Croke Park against Kerry still frustrates
Cork's Donncha O'Connor after the defeat by Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

TO understand Cork football in the mid-to-late 2000s is to understand Cork-Kerry games from that era.

In five championship summers from 2005-09, they played each other 13 times.

Seriously, imagine how sick of each other they were at that stage — Paudie Kissane told me once that he had a headache after games with Darren O’Sullivan cos he had to concentrate so much. Cork won three, but never in a meaningful knockout way.

It was that kind of time, Cork with performances and wins that seemed to suggest progress of a sort (and they all counted in their own way), but being pushed back down every year.

2005, close in Munster, blown apart in Croke Park. 2006, an emotional win in Munster, Kerry found Donaghy. 2007, getting closer, hope, then a non-event All-Ireland final. 2008, the oddest year of three crazy comebacks, one win, one draw and one eventual defeat.

2009 felt different. Cork physically battered Kerry and then Tyrone. Everyone thought that Cork were better now than Kerry, genuinely. And then, the final to decide it all, 2009.

Oh boy, part one. Five seconds in. We forgot Tadhg Kennelly was that lucky. He’s said himself he was charged up and you can see him rushing in from the throw-on absolutely bulling to hit something and landing one on Nick Murphy. Richie Hogan got a red in last year’s All-Ireland final for something similar.

Oh boy, part two. We forgot how powerful Cork were when on top in that opening spell and when they got a run on teams in general over this period. They locked Kerry down, won so many collisions and loose ball and broke lines really effectively.

Shields was doing that dummy handpass and carrying ball, Canty was bossing, Miskella was getting up and down. They scored two points from the heavens — one perfect example of peak Colm O’Neill taking a popped handpass and whipping over a beautiful shot on the turn, one lovely move with a kick from Canty to Goulding and a well-timed Paddy Kelly run and curl over the bar on the run.

That goal from Colm O’Neill then, a raking pass from Nick Murphy and the volleyed finish banged into the net and the most obvious thought at that stage was that Cork could do absolute wreck here, like lay waste to Kerry properly at last.

Colm O'Neill's early goal.
Colm O'Neill's early goal.

This game was frantic early on especially — there was one spell of up and down the pitch with turnovers and teams kicking ball and losing it that lasted several minutes that completely lacked any sense of control or pattern other than both teams having a go.

Again, this was football of its time, and even though it was only 11 years ago, it looks unstructured and loose compared to the patterns of today’s game.

Kick-outs weren’t overly complex. Possession wasn’t held for long spells. Matches between Cork and Kerry tended to follow a particular trend at Croke Park especially, where Kerry developed a way of clogging up spaces for Cork’s runners in the middle third and left loads of room inside in front of Colm Cooper or Declan O’Sullivan to do wreck. Here Cork got the lead, but weren’t able to control the match from that winning position and the game reverted to type.

Kerry were very good in the second quarter here though, as they squeezed Cork’s spaces completely and their individual forwards did the damage.

Tommy Walsh under pressure from Michael Shields, Pa Kelly and Nicholas Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Tommy Walsh under pressure from Michael Shields, Pa Kelly and Nicholas Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Tommy Walsh kicked two points, one where he just batted Michael Shields aside and launched one from 40 yards — Cork had gotten fair warning the year before when Walsh scored a cracker in the All-Ireland semi-final replay.

Paul Galvin launched another ball into the full-forward area for Walsh to set up a score. Declan O’Sullivan ran another from deep. Galvin picked up a break and found Kennelly for his second point.

Tomás bombed forward to kick one on the run. It was a masterclass from Kerry’s big-game players at the time and they had some proper talent on the pitch. Cooper wasn’t even really a massive factor, Donaghy wasn’t there.

It wasn’t unusual for those years. Kerry had made a habit of destroying Cork with bursts of dominance and then picked them off on breaks and look, that Kerry side were a really good team. We watched snippets of 2005, 2007 and 2008 back for this and it was hard to make an argument that Cork were being wronged in any way by not beating Kerry in semi-finals and finals.

There were continuous reminders of how far away Cork were in the last game of every year. Nobody else knocked Cork out of championship from Fermanagh in 2004 to Mayo in 2011. But in a year where Cork had outplayed everybody, including Kerry twice, it looked wrong.

Oh boy, part three. Lordy but Cork lacked composure here, and it was so surprising at the time.

We had forgotten just how wasteful they were in that second half. We counted 14 times they were in the scoring zone, at least, with no reward. That’s including wides (some really bad wild shots at goal), shots short or blocked, balls lost with bad passes or ball control, even guys like Donncha and Kelly took poor options under pressure.

Daniel Goulding, normally lethal, got a point from two good goal chances.

Daniel Goulding lets fly as Kerry keeper Diarmuid Murphy is beaten but the post in 2009. Picture: Dan Linehan
Daniel Goulding lets fly as Kerry keeper Diarmuid Murphy is beaten but the post in 2009. Picture: Dan Linehan

Cork STILL managed to get it back to a point with all these chances missed, but Kerry just had more title-winning know-how at that moment.

To be fair they kicked on with three points when they had to, two from Walsh (one of them was a top class one-two) and another from a perfectly-timed Tomás Ó Sé burst. It just had this feeling this time of Cork lacking something rather than Kerry simply being better, that Cork just were unable to finish the job and that this lack of killer instinct, game management and championship-winning quality might be fatal for this team.

Tomás Ó Sé goes past Paul Kerrigan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Tomás Ó Sé goes past Paul Kerrigan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

This game certainly put a doubt into the idea that there was a step-by-step progression that would naturally end in an All-Ireland title. A lot of people wrote Cork off on the basis of not having the necessary composure, an important experience used in rectifying things a year later.

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