AFTER a week of hoping and wondering what if it all just finally clicked for Cork, in the end we got what we most feared and expected.
Kerry cruised through the gears, played in patches when they needed to and had the better footballers on the pitch when it mattered.
Cork were competitive enough for a half without ever looking quite like winners, didn’t take the chances that might have changed the momentum of the game and then just couldn’t live with Kerry when the heat was turned up after the break.
Kerry had James O’Donoghue in more or less unmarkable form, were sharper to the ball and more assured in execution of basic decision making and ball skills.
Cork couldn’t make up the difference of ability with any sustained burst where they outworked or hustled Kerry out of their rhythm, conceded 26 points and the starting forward line had three scores from play.
The game was over way before the end and Cork head home from Killarney again with a lot more questions about where exactly they go from here.
Cork didn’t suffer a complete malfunction in one particular area and yet still somehow lacked everything necessary to win.
Starting Sean Powter was a straight enough call that worked – Powter was scrappy off the ball and zippy on it from half-back and had Donnchadh Walsh whipped off at half-time – and yet it’d be difficult to point to one area of the field that worked exactly as it was meant to work.
Colm O’Neill was taken out of the team but his replacement was gone at half-time and if Cork did create a few dangerous enough situations in the first half, the finishers just weren’t there. Ian Maguire made a great run (and Maguire was generally bright spark number two for 30 minutes with his legs and willingness to run hard) to get in on goal but got smothered. Niall Coakley and Luke Connolly snatched at chances from decent areas when the game was tight and all the half-forward line missed shots wide from distance.
The running game that opened up Tipp wasn’t quite as effective here, Cork tended to get one runner at pace but struggled to get the second or third runner that might have got behind Kerry’s defence, or when they did, it often wasn’t the player Cork wanted in possession in the scoring areas.
Cork always needed a goal to open up the game and probably two to win but lacked the instinct to finish those situations when they arose in a Kerry defence that looked vulnerable at times in the opening half.
That balance between runners and creatives and finishers hasn’t been quite found yet and the absence of a fit Brian Hurley and an in-form Colm O’Neill is massive.
Kerry were simply far more ruthless when it made the difference and had more ability to work the ball into scoring positions and then take them.
Cork tried to have a regular sweeper back early on, Kevin O’Driscoll mainly, but still Kerry got runners right down the middle for the first three points. Cork got serious numbers back in the defensive areas but James O’Donoghue was still able to dink and jink and find enough space to do wreck and you felt for Kevin Crowley in a really tough first half for the corner-back.
At one stage of the first half Cork lobbed a ball into space in the full-forward line, couldn’t get numbers up in support and Mark Griffin mopped up the one-v-one battle. When Kerry worked the ball down the other end O’Donoghue was able to get on the ball and find room to bang over a lovely score - a demoralising sort of show of intent – and he had 0-3 from play and two frees where he was fouled himself.
Paul Geaney had 1-4 from play and the worry about Cork not having the man-markers to deal with that duo bore out (to be fair, most others won’t either). Kerry barely missed for the first half and looked like scoring every time they got into the scoring zone.
Stephen O’Brien came on at half-time and had two points right away with direct running and it was this spell where Kerry’s runners from that middle third seemed to overwhelm Cork.
Kerry again got a runner to create an extra man down the middle and though James O’Donoghue’s goal shot was blocked, he popped a point anyway.
Paul Murphy kicked a point right afterwards, another runner from deep.
At one stage Kerry had a sideline, Tadhg Morley was able to lose his man from a set-piece and make a run into the centre of the pitch to get possession and Kerry seemed to get their runners past the line and into scoring areas more effectively throughout.
Kerry won midfield in those match-winning spells where it mattered in the first ten minutes of either half.
Cork didn’t have the footballers to influence the game in the same way or the game plan to disrupt the gap in quality on the day.
If Cork had come with notions of blitzing Killarney, that seemed fanciful in the awfully flat last 20 minutes here.
Cork lacked the little details of composure and quality on the ball that separates the elite All-Ireland level contenders and the rest and there’s a bit of work now to figure out how to go into the qualifiers.