There are many events that one must check off one’s GAA bucket-list to consider themselves true patrons of the games. One such occasion that should rank highly is the almost annual meeting of Kerry and Cork in the Munster Championship. It is this single clash that really lets you know that the Senior Football Championship is now well underway. Fitzgerald Stadium and Páirc Uí Chaoimh possess a certain degree of comfort for both teams that cannot be rivalled by the stuffy confines of Croke Park in late August and early September. The banter, the legends walking amongst mortals, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the football is a different experience to your average provincial showdown. From a football point of view, Sunday afternoon by the banks of the Lee did not disappoint.
Cork entered this match as National League Champions with a full strength team that merited their favourite’s tag against a side missing their star free-taker in Bryan Sheehan. This was evident from the offset with two wides from two 45’s off the boot of their goalkeeper Brendan Kealy. Cork’s early movement, by contrast, was impressive; Paddy Kelly putting Donncha O’Connor through with two great kicks into space that O’Connor could sweep up. Ciarán Sheehan got in on the act with a mammoth of a point from far on the left side of the pitch.
Cork took the game to Kerry like, well… Kerry. They attacked in numbers and gave an exhibition in foot-passing and point scoring. At the other end Kerry looked uncomfortable and awkward. Handling errors and bad mistakes accompanied tireless efforts by Galvin and Declan O’Sullivan. However, this uncharacteristic Kerry display culminated in two missed goal chances with former basketball star Kieran Donaghy panicking in front of goal. The first he fed to Cooper who had more of an acute angle. Cooper finished the day with 5 points. The second time he over-played and gave Alan Quirke all the time he needed to make himself big in the Cork goal. On the other hand this shows that the scale of the damage in Kerry is not irreparable, rather, perhaps, just a lack of confidence stemming from the manner in which they lost to Dublin last year. By the half the Kingdom were trailing 0-7 to 0-4.
In the second half the game lost much of its tenacity. The introduction of the young James O’Donoghue for Kerry, however, did present us with a new one-to-watch this summer with two points coming from his boot. Cork pulled away eventually and showed the rest of the country the strength they possess on their bench. Daniel Goulding scored two points soon after his introduction. The move of the game came with only minutes left on the clock; Graham Canty hit a peach of a through-ball into Colm O’Neill who gathered on a diagonal run and narrowly missed top and centre for his fifth of the day. Cork ran out 0-17 to 0-12 winners on the day.
Cork progress to face the Banner County after twenty years of Munster football wilderness, though one would presume that the cows of Clare will continue to be milked all summer.
And so, two cases for the defence of provincial football; the chance of a minnow upset by Clare in the Munster Final, and Cork and Kerry- the game at its purest.
In the weekend’s other results, Sligo topped Galway, and look to face Mayo in the Connacht Final. Mayo are surely favourites to take the title in the province. Wexford beat Longford by a point. Both strong contenders, Wexford now face Dublin, with the Dubs again favourites to progress. Tyrone silenced Armagh and have set up a tantalising clash with either Derry or Donegal. The winner of that match should emerge as the likeliest to take the hotly contested Ulster Championship.