IT finished as everyone knew it would, Cork and Kerry clashing once again in the Munster MFC final in Tralee on Friday, June 2 at 7.30pm following a pair of contrasting semi-finals on Thursday evening.
Despite champions and three-in-row-seeking Cork winning by 5-9 to 1-11 in Thurles, it was far from that convincing against a Tipperary side still very much in the hunt with 10 minutes remaining only to be hit by an avalanche of scores in quick succession.
It started the same way in Newcastlewest, where Limerick found themselves 1-1 to 0-1 in front after 21 minutes with Kerry struggling to come to terms with the greasy conditions.
But once they settled into their rhythm, the Kingdom hit their hosts with another 1-18 and conceded just a mere point in a runaway victory.
Cork certainly knew they were in a battle after Tipp clawed their way back from being 1-4 to 0-4 down after 23 minutes to not only go in at the break on level terms, but edge in front with a point from the outstanding Shane Ryan within 20 seconds of the resumption, his third in all.
Critically, though, Cork were able to answer barely a minute later with a fine individual goal from joint captain Sean Coakley (Douglas), who forced his way along the end line on the right before finishing expertly for a critical goal.
Five minutes later Cork introduced Coakley’s club colleague James O’Leary, whose imposing presence helped the holders stabilise matters around the middle.
He has benefitted from the strength and conditioning programme at his school, PBC, with whom O’Leary won a senior cup medal in rugby this season, lining up at centre.
It wasn’t the only issue that will occupy manager Ray O’Mahony and his selectors because Cork also experienced problems with their handling, distribution from foot and hand and decision-making in general, especially the player with the ball lacking awareness of loose players around him.
The plus factor is that Cork will have probably learned a lot more about themselves from this game than in the quarter-final success against Kerry at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
A barren spell followed Coakley’s goal as only a couple of points from Dara Sheedy (Bantry Blue) were the only scores in the next 17 minutes, Cork 2-6 to 0-8 in front but far from comfortable before they eventually put the game to bed in blistering fashion.
In less than a two-minute burst, Cork hit Tipp with a quick-fire 2-2 and there was no way back for the home side after that.
Sheedy kick-started the rush with a point after 49 minutes followed immediately by goals from Denis O’Mullane (Kilmurry), his second, following a strong run from deep by joint-captain Gearoid Daly (Mallow).
And when Cork won the subsequent kick-out Coakley again supplied the right finish for his second and his side’s fourth goal, which was then added to by a fine point from midfielder Mark O’Brien (Ballinora) for 4-7 to 0-8.
Although Tipp responded with a goal from substitute Charlie Grace seven minutes from the end, Cork cancelled it out with their fifth in stoppage time, Sheedy’s composure was evident in his cool finish.
Kerry made a number of changes from the Cork tie, three in defence and two up front, suggesting they learned a lot from the defeat though what learnings are to be derived from the 1-19 to 1-2 rout of Limerick are unsure.
Once again Paddy Lane was Kerry’s leading marksman with 0-7, five from play, while newcomer Dara Hogan chipped in with 1-3 and Stephen Gannon showed his worth with 0-5 from the bench.
Whatever the outcome, both counties are through to the All-Ireland quarter-finals against Connacht opponents with provincial winners meeting the runners-up.
Galway play the winners of last evening’s semi-final between Mayo and Roscommon with the former hotly tipped to progress.
The Ulster semi-finals are on today, Derry-Donegal and Tyrone-Monaghan while Dublin and Kildare are in the Leinster last-four against Offaly and Meath respectively next Wednesday.