Cork deserved more after restoring pride in football on Leeside

Cork deserved more after restoring pride in football on Leeside
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

PRIDE restored but no Munster title. 

If you'd given Leesiders that option before throw-in they'd have taken it but why did it feel like a missed opportunity for Cork football? 

The players and management were deservedly applauded down the tunnel after and the 'Rebels, Rebels' chants throughout reflected the supporters' appreciation of their efforts. This isn't the most naturally talented group that have worn the colours but they died with their boots on and that was a step in the right direction.

Not hard you might say given last year's humiliating provincial decider but Cork are in a far better place heading into a qualifier with a berth in the Super 8s at stake than they were when Tyrone shredded them. As well as the core leaders of the side like Ian Maguire, Ruairí Deane, Paul Kerrigan and Mark Collins, some new heroes emerged in the Páirc.

Killian O'Hanlon saw off Jack Barry at midfield and earned the penalty that Luke Connolly finished with aplomb. Liam O'Donovan and Mattie Taylor, in particular, bombed down the wings time and again to punch holes in the Kerry rearguard.

Brian Hurley reminded the fans what they've missed in recent injury-scarred seasons by flicking in a classy goal and getting fouled for two converted frees close to the posts. Seán White was a late replacement for the missing Tom Clancy and handled as much ball as anyone in a roving role from 11, as well as lobbing over a fine point. 

Nemo's Kevin O'Donovan, a forward as a Cork minor, slotted in seamlessly at corner-back when replacing Nathan Walsh, who got a knock before the break. Kevin Flahive had a right battle with David Clifford, turning him over a few times while also getting caught for a few stunning scores by the number 13. 

It was a very positive display overall, and this was in a context of a couple of questionable calls by the ref that didn't go Cork's way, but there is nothing more galling than a moral victory.

Given the Rebels plundered three goals and the Kingdom's star forward Paul Geaney was sent off in the last quarter, this was absolutely a game they could have won.

Kerry were better able to pick off points and showed real composure, especially through wing-forward Stephen O'Brien who came alive in the latter stages, to survive a genuine scare.

You add in the minors, who played a terrific brand of high-tempo football with Hugh Murphy, Conor Corbett and Neil Lordan among the standouts, getting pipped late on in the opening match and it was really was a case of what might have been.

The U17s left a few scores behind them playing into the Blackrock Terrace and it was the exact same for the seniors. At the break Cork had five wides and Kerry had none and that was critical by the time the final whistle was sounded. 

Mark Collins nailed two soaring points in the second half and nervelessly converted some pressure frees but will have been disappointed by two earlier wides and his failure to offload to Brian Hurley for a certain goal. 

Kerry had goal chances aside from corner-back Tom O'Sullivan's stunning effort after marauding upfield, with Mark White twice coming to the rescue, but Cork had more of them, including two glorious opportunities for Ruairí Deane.

Given the accuracy of Kerry's forward unit in comparison to Cork's, it was going to take a handful of goals for the home side to turn a gutsy display into an unexpected upset. They could easily have ended the night after raising five green flags before raising the cup.

Ronan McCarthy and his selectors weren't afraid to make changes in the fourth quarter in a bid to exploit the fact Kerry were a man down but they didn't get a point from their bench. 

Kevin O'Driscoll stole a Kerry kick-out which led to a foul on Deane for a point but Cork needed a bit more punch from their attacking subs. Perhaps they could have sent Steven Sherlock and Michael Hurley in a bit earlier?

The blend of the running game and long deliveries inside was effective though on a few occasions in the last 20 minutes Rebels looked to pop a safe pass instead of gambling on a crossfield punt. 

Like Cork, Kerry tried to protect their full-back line by dropping deep in numbers but they didn't deploy a designated sweeper. It would have been interesting if Connolly had been kept closer to goal for longer.

Those are areas the management will assess before their Super 8 qualifier. It's essential now they follow up on Saturday night with another huge performance.

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