CORK manager John Cleary will have been reasonably satisfied with how Cork performed in their Munster Championship defeat to Kerry at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening.
Kerry dominated the final quarter of the game to pull away comfortably in the end but for 50 minutes Cork surprised many with how they played.
The Cork challenge fell away eventually due to a few key reasons. Kerry’s superior fitness levels being one, the lack of a short kick-out strategy from Cork being another, as well as the inability of Cork to get Steven Sherlock on the ball in the second half after he had given a shooting masterclass in the first half.
The final score was 0-23 to 0-11, which does not give an indication of how difficult Cork made it for Jack O’Connor’s side, but ultimately it shows how ruthless Kerry can be once they get on top of any opposition.
Cork started really well in the opening minutes, but when Micheal Aodh Martin launched two long kick-outs in the 8th and 9th minutes Kerry simply gobbled possession on both occasions, with the result being beautifully kicked points from Paudie Clifford and Stephen O’Brien.
So, despite a bright start, Cork found themselves three points down after 14 minutes, which was not ideal given that Cork’s gameplan would have been built around keeping the score tight.
Cork didn’t get a score from play until the 25th minute, at which time the margin was four. The score was a memorable one though, and worth waiting for, as Sherlock scored a sublime point after selling a wonderful dummy and then curling it over with a superb outside of the foot strike. Cathail O’Mahony soon joined in the fun with a well-taken score from 30m and Sherlock continued his kicking masterclass when he floated over a free from out near the right-wing, after a foul on O’Mahony.
It was quite noticeable that Kerry never went long from their own kick-outs in the entire game, as they simply did not have to.
Cork were quite happy to concede possession high up the pitch and get their defensive structure in place, and to a large degree, it worked.
At the other end, Cork went long on eight occasions from their own kick-outs in the first half, with them managing to win half of those. However, it was Kerry who utilised the resultant ball better, as three of their nine first-half scores were mined directly from these long Cork restarts, while Cork only garnered one point from the four possessions they regathered.
On two occasions in the first half, Colm O’Callaghan made brilliant driving runs right through the heart of the Kerry defence but he found that he was unable to get his shot away and had no support and ended up being out-crowded and dispossessed.
O’Mahony’s brilliant long-range effort in the 40th minute kept Cork in touch, but it was noticeable that Cork simply had to slow down their build-up play in order to give themselves a breather.
The approach appeared to be working when Kevin O’Donovan and O’Mahony, again from another long-range bomb from downtown, brought Cork to within a single point in the 48th minute.
With the game up for grabs, Kerry upped the gears, as they kicked seven in a row between the 50th and 63rd minutes and they were all of a sudden out of sight.
Cork were being forced to kick every single one of their kick-outs long, due to a high Kerry press, and it was telling that Cork failed to win a clean Dylan Foley restart in the second half until the 59th minute. As a result, Cork went a whole 16 minutes without registering a score as Kerry pulled away.
It was Eoghan McSweeney who stopped the rot with another sublime curling effort from distance. The fact that all Cork’s scores were huge efforts from miles out in the second half tells a story in itself, as Cork were clearly seriously struggling to create chances as they began to tire.
Kerry outscored Cork by a margin of 0-11 to 0-1 in the last 20 minutes, as their superior fitness levels began to tell.
A lot of the Cork players have had little or no preparation in advance of this tie and that told late on.
It would have been extremely advantageous, at this juncture, if Cork had a short kick-out strategy in order to slow the game down.
This is an area that Cork have yet to fully develop, and they are clearly well behind the Division 1 sides.