Cork football rewatch: Kerry had no answer to Rebel dominance in Killarney

Cork football rewatch: Kerry had no answer to Rebel dominance in Killarney
The Cork team parade before the Munster final against Kerry in Killarney in 1995. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE.

EVEN now, rewatching the Munster final for 1995, some things seem remarkable straight away.

A Kerry team with Seamus Moynihan, Dara Ó Cinnéide, Maurice Fitzgerald and still Darragh Ó Sé (who came on as sub that day) admitted in his book that Cork were simply far better. A Kerry team with Liam O’Flaherty and Eamonn Breen and the Hassetts being pushed aside by what was an extremely physically impressive Cork team.

John Crowley started on Ciarán O’Sullivan and at one stage when the Kerry ’keeper Peter O’Brien tried to mix up the kick-outs and hit his wing-forward, O’Sullivan just breezed past him. Crowley got taken off and told he was playing senior football now by a voice in the crowd.

Ó Sé spoke about not being able to get near Cork’s midfield that day – Liam Honohan and Danny Culloty simply had too much strong presence. Men against boys. And Cork were the men.

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
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

Tying with that fact for most remarkable of course is what we know now, that Cork haven’t won there since and that this win would mark the end of an era of dominance in many ways – Cork won six Munster titles in nine years to 1995; it’s six in 25 years since.

If rewatching the 1990 All-Ireland final last week was an eye-opener for how chaotic the game looked compared to now, things had moved on by 1995. There were more obvious combinations of play between lines and between players, more clear patterns of play where the ball was moved into spaces deliberately, a lot fewer situations where the ball was kicked more or less blindly long into 50-50 contests and where more deliberate kicking was used as a mover of ball into scoring zones.

It wasn’t possession football of the current era but it was a definite progression on the road and it generally resembled the football game we know now a lot more.

Point one, as an example, Cork’s first score. A long pass found Steven O’Brien attacking down the left wing and Niall Cahalane, the corner-back, bombed forward in support – they played a nice one-two and Cahalane kicked over. One standout here was the willingness of Cork’s defensive players to support the ball and link play with handpasses on the run rather than just kick the ball into the forward areas.

Players from positions two to seven attacking and scoring was becoming more and more of a thing.

On that note, Ciarán O’Sullivan showed what he was about that day with a signature performance, driving forward down the right wing to kick two points from play, one with either foot. He went on to kick two points against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final as well and inspired a whole pile of future Cork wing-backs – just ask Noel O’Leary or really any Cork half-back that emerged over the following 10 years or so.

His first score here again showed that willingness to get on the end of moves, cutting inside onto a Joe Kavanagh handpass to point from distance. His point in the second half actually summed up what made Cork superior at this time and it just seems unusual now to see a Cork team with the mentality and belief to make it their game in the closing quarter against Kerry.

When a ball broke at midfield, Culloty won it and immediately had three or four Cork players sprinting forward in support, again showing that edge where they had the confidence to go and win the game. O’Sullivan took the pass and curled a beauty over on the run.

Cork were so on top at midfield by then, so imposing and in control and you’d sort of forget how important Danny Culloty was for so long in holding that dominance over Kerry. That was before Darragh Ó Sé’s time and though Cork have had midfielders since who’ve had big games here and there, they’ve rarely had a midfield two who’ve consistently been able to compete against the old rivals – even since Darragh, David Moran and Anthony Maher stepped up to control big games.

Different times... the confederate flags fly high on the terrace in Killarney when Cork beat Kerry at Fitzgerald Stadium in 1995. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE.
Different times... the confederate flags fly high on the terrace in Killarney when Cork beat Kerry at Fitzgerald Stadium in 1995. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE.

Other players and performances you’d forget. Don Davis with a forgotten performance for the ages, three points from play, something he never did before or after that for Cork. Davis has probably the best-forgotten assist in Cork football also, that pass for John O’Driscoll in the 1993 All-Ireland final.

On this occasion, each score is better than the one before. An opportunistic shot from a loose ball near the Kerry goal, a shot on the turn from a Tompkins kick-pass and then a snappy finish from a Tompkins set-up again as the game needed men to step up and Cork had more of them.

Mark O’Sullivan looked unplayable in little snapshots and had Cork’s best score here. A lovely flowing move that started back in the left corner-back position with Cahalane, fast hands to move the ball through Steven O’Brien, who did that high overhand fistpass that was only around in the mid-90s, and Brian Corcoran, onto Tompkins who flicked to a bursting Mark O’Connor who booted a great pass into space for Mark O’Sullivan, one-v-one inside in the left corner-forward position with space left and right.

Not many Cork forwards over the years had that natural talent to do what he did next, a jink inside and then back outside his man and then a ridiculous low shot with the outside of his foot from the wrong side, a typically unique style of a strike that I don’t think I’ve ever seen done again in that exact way.

Mark O’Connor was a serious player around then as well, with a lot of powerful performances unfairly tarnished perhaps by one slip on Jason Sherlock later that summer – not overly tarnished, he still won an All-Star for his performance here mainly, along with Steven O’Brien, who was also very very accomplished as a different kind of centre-back by this stage.

Cork full-back Mark O'Connor during the 1995 Munster final at Fitzgerald Stadium against Kerry. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O 'Sullivan
Cork full-back Mark O'Connor during the 1995 Munster final at Fitzgerald Stadium against Kerry. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O 'Sullivan

We even had a cameo of a Corkery masterclass, seven points including one massive kick from way out on the sideline.

It was a game Kerry were in for long spells but there was this feeling that once Cork upped it there was only going to be one winner. Cork won and headed to an All-Ireland semi-final; Ogie Moran would leave as manager in Kerry, frustrated by the inability of his players to respond.

There was no sense of what was to follow. Paidí took over.

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