The Christy O'Connor column: Leesiders can accept a defeat but they were left down again by the performance

The Christy O'Connor column: Leesiders can accept a defeat but they were left down again by the performance
Kerry's David Clifford shoots through a sea of Cork players. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WITH 15 minutes remaining on Saturday evening, Cork supporters were streaming out of the ground. 

The game was long over by that stage but the locals were clearly disillusioned by the paucity of their team’s display and disheartened by the realisation that this kind of pain and heartbreak from their neighbours is inevitable for the foreseeable future.

The gulf in class was glaringly obvious. Kerry had 27 more shots at the target.

They would have had seven goals only for three fine saves from Mark White, the good fortune of the crossbar and a scrambled defensive block near the goal-line from a continuation of that play. 

For a finish, Kerry were doing as they pleased, waltzing through a Cork side that were screaming for the final whistle and for the misery to end.

Only five of the Kerry team which started against Cork in last year’s Munster final started on Saturday evening but Kerry have built a team to take on Dublin, and to blow anything else which gets in their way in the meantime to smithereens. 

And Cork felt the full brunt of that force on their own turf, and in front of their own people.

The opening minutes promised so much. Cork’s first goal came off their opening attack. 

The noise went through the roof when Cork scored their second goal shortly afterwards. The game was a throwback in terms of style but it was soon evident that the Old World was keen to repel any talk of a New Order. 

Kerry had the intent of a wrecking machine. They blew holes in every corner of Cork’s new home, leaving a trail of black ash across the pitch that carried its own threatening message; this is a new Kerry team that is going to be around for a while.

Along with a raft of debutants, nine Kerry players had never played in Pairc Ui Chaoimh before but they bossed the place like they owned it. 

Cork were keen to have a go and treat the place like a playground but any early notions they had of a carnival soon turned into a horror show. Because Kerry are the last team to engage in a shootout.

Kerry’s big weapons up front wrecked Cork. Over the 70 minutes, David Clifford, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue made a combined 48 plays, scoring 2-9 from play. 

Geaney accounted for 2-5 of that total but his two partners in destructive crime had six assists to their names. The telepathy and link play between the three was on a different level but Cork couldn’t get a handle on anything Kerry did. 

Kerry tactically bossed the game. They annihilated Cork on their own kickout through a well-engineered and smart pressing game. 

Cork's Aidan Walsh wins the ball from Kerry's Michael Burns. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Aidan Walsh wins the ball from Kerry's Michael Burns. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In the first half alone, Kerry won nine Cork kickouts and mined 1-5 directly off that possession. Cork only had 14 shots at the target, mainly because they couldn’t get past the Kerry 45 metre line. 

The movement of the Cork attack was poor but Cork still couldn’t get any supply of ball inside. Cork’s main strike forward, Luke Connolly, was restricted to just 12 plays, and three shots at the target from play. 

Connolly was well marked by Jason Foley but his frustration was obvious in the second half because three of his last five plays were made beyond his own 65 metre line. Kerry’s workrate remained high and consistent throughout, making five more turnovers-in-possession. 

Paul Murphy smartly played a fluid sweeping role but he also got up the field to kick two first-half points.

Kerry were always on a different level but they were smart too when Cork applied the heat early on. 

Ruairí Deane had been outstanding in the opening ten minutes when creating Cork’s two goals down the left flank but Kerry moved Peter Crowley from full-back to tie down Deane. It certainly restricted his influence until Deane was harshly dismissed on a black-card in the 33rd minute.

Cork’s overall statistics aren’t worth analysing because Kerry absolutely dominated possession, and just had Cork in a vice throughout. Going close to 40 minutes without a score was the biggest indictment of Cork’s performance but Cork were running into brick walls wherever they turned.

Kerry murdered Cork when they tried to run the ball through the middle and the only time Cork enjoyed any success all evening was down that left flank of their attack.

In the 31st minute, Connolly came in from that side, jinked in along the endline and tried to dink his shot over Shane Murphy. 

Connolly looked in two minds about whether to go for the goal or point but his attempt found its way to Mark Collins, who shot wide under pressure.

Cork just don’t have anything like Kerry’s firepower, which was further underlined by who they hauled off the bench; Kieran Donaghy, Barry John Keane and Darran O’Sullivan. And yet Kevin McCarthy, who really hasn’t been seen since the 2017 National League final, was – after Geaney - the best player on the pitch after being introduced.

Kerry were like a crazed army throughout, their lust for blood evident from the first minute to the last. They made the kill early but they kept ravaging at the carcass until Cork were stripped to the bare bones.

Kerry are a serious outfit. 

Cork are nowhere near their level but the disappointment was all the more acute because the Cork supporters while, not expecting a win, expected a performance. And they were let down again.

The players blew a big opportunity to try and reconnect with their own supporters and it’s going to be harder than ever now for Cork to generate any real momentum or interest around this team. 

And especially when the whole of Cork knows that, unless something radically changes, Cork are going to be under Kerry’s boot for a long time to come.

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