IT was always going to like this, realistically.
A chastening defeat in sweltering Killarney; revenge a dish best served scorching hot for Kerry.
It’s a damning indictment of where Cork football ranks right now that we can’t say anything about this game was particularly surprising. It was a showdown between one of the leading contenders for Sam Maguire and a team that needs a bit of work to even make Division 1 of the league in the coming seasons. Those types of games rarely go any other way.
Granted, few predicted a 22-point mauling, or that Cork would start so well and then wilt so tamely in the second half. Regardless, no one, on Leeside or the rest of the country, that Kerry would be genuinely pushed in this one and basically they were right.
Seán Meehan was Cork’s standout performer. The young defender did a brilliant job on David Clifford, holding him scoreless from play and despite Meehan’s heroic efforts, Kerry rattled off 4-22!
Brian Hurley was on song in the first half, Ian Maguire and Brian Hartnett held the upper hand at midfield for a while, Seán Powter had his moments and Micheál Martin was sharp around his goalmouth before an injury forced him to come off at half-time. In the end, it didn’t add up to much.
Once Kerry got to grips with Cork they crushed the life out of them in every area.
Now, Cork’s first-quarter efforts were terrific. They were aggressive in defence and forced multiple turnovers.
One of John O’Rourke’s was turned into a clever Brian Hurley goal at the other end. At that juncture, Cork led 1-5 to 0-3. And even if Mícheál Martin had to be alert to two early Kerry goal chances, Michael Hurley (2), Dan Ó Duinnín and Brian Hartnett had struck some fine points.
Coming out of the water break, Ruairí Deane laid on another Brian Hurley point, but from there Kerry upped the gears ominously. They arched over 0-6 without replay before Luke Connolly split the posts in style, tying it 1-7 to 0-10. In between Cork were churning ball in attack or squandering chances, including an O’Rourke effort off the upright.
Then came a killer blow. Kerry exploited Cork’s man-marking with a sizzling Brian Ó Beaglaoich run that ended in a goal. Killian Spillane and Seán O’Shea, his third from play, compounded matters and suddenly a five-point gap had opened: 1-12 to 1-7.
Cork then started the second half full of intent, but after kicking a free wide and failing to maximise a well-worked move inside the Kerry 13, there was a second goal at the other end. Replacement goalkeeper Mark White picked the O’Neills out after Paul Geaney squeezed it under him and he’d concede two more goals before the water break.
When Cork attacked they kept running into a wall of Green and Gold between the 20-metre line and the 45, which of course left acres of room to counter into. The Rebels were trying but it was futile in the extreme.
It was a far cry from 2020.
Last winter was the perfect storm, quite literally, for Cork. The weather was brutal, a true leveller, and Kerry were complacent in the extreme. Ronan McCarthy got his side working like dogs and they were very clinical with their chances, but ultimately the scorching heat of Killarney was always going to be a very different environment.
Cork haven’t crossed the county bounds with a win over the enemy since 1995, but they’ve drawn with them five times: 2002, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2015, getting the job done on home soil in the replays on three occasions. When they were beaten in ‘10 they regrouped and won the All-Ireland regardless, while in ‘15 Cork were unfortunate in that because of the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh the rematch was in Fitzgerald Stadium.
Kerry were haunted six years ago with Fionn Fitzgerald’s long-range equaliser and it was a score that set Cork football back a bit. Kildare dumped Brian Cuthbert’s side out in the qualifiers after and the Rebels replaced the manager and entered a period of transition they’ll only now starting to claw their way out of. And even so, a shift in tactics is clearly needed at senior.
The recent U20 victory over Kerry, followed up with a Munster title, coming two seasons after an U20 All-Ireland under the inspirational Keith Ricken, as well as a minor triumph, overseen by current senior selector Bobbie O’Dwyer, brought a feelgood factor to Cork football.
When you’re coming from a low base, Division 3 of the league in 2020 and unable to get promotion from Division 2 this term, reality can bite too.
And it bit hard here.