By Mark Jones
Kerry 2-15, Cork 1-13
There was no denying Kerry were the more accomplished team, no denying they deserved a place in the Munster football final, yet the Kingdom lived on the edge for much of a titanic second half at Killarney last Sunday. Manager Paidi O Se saw a 12-point lead whittled away to just two by a resurgent Cork until three late scores settled the issue.
If privately O Se was able to luxuriate in revenge for last year’s defeat by his major rival in Munster, publicly there was relief written all over his face. Because at one stage in the midst of Cork’s relentless comeback, it looked as if Kerry were going to succumb to one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the long history of games between the two counties.
Once imperious, fast-moving and deadly accurate with the wind at their backs, Kerry’s self-belief seemed to disintegrate by the minute as Cork took both the Killarney breeze and the initiative after the interval. Colin Corkery’s free-taking and some improved attacking by the Rebels completely reversed the earlier trend, but in the end it was Kerry who finished the stronger with two late points from the outstanding Dara O Cinneide and one by Mike Frank Russell.
“No matter how hard a team tries to keep its focus, its very difficult when you have a 10-point lead at halftime,” a beaming O Se said. “At the back of your mind you keep thinking that you can’t be caught. Cork really put it up to us, but we finished strongly, which really pleased me.”
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But there was no consolation for Larry Tompkins despite the success of two of his more controversial selections. Corkery, playing his first championship game since 1997, scored 1-8 and generally made life difficult for the Kerry defense, while Steven O’Brien also did a satisfactory job at full forward. However, the Cork manager was furious at the way the game had been refereed by Mick Curley.
Incensed by several of Curley’s decisions, especially the awarding of a second penalty to Kerry in the 31st minute, Tompkins branded the official a “disgrace.” In fact, relations between manager and ref became so strained that at one stage, Tompkins stood his ground after being told to return to the dugout by Curley.
“I make no secret of the fact that I don’t like him refereeing our games,” Tompkins said. “This is another example of why I feel that way. There was no way the second penalty should have been given, it was a vital decision. I’m not taking away from Kerry’s win — they played very well — but we put an awful lot of hard work preparing and this is what happens. I’m very upset over what happened.”
Tompkins’s comments could now lead to disciplinary action by the GAA, but Cork’s manager, in his fourth year in charge, may have other more pressing matters regarding his future. Even with another season to run, he may considering stepping down.
A repeat of Cork’s success of 12 months ago looked dead and buried at the changeover when they trailed by 2-9 to 0-5. With just a quarter of an hour gone, all of Kerry’s forwards, bar Aodhan MacGearailt, had got on the scoreboard. Facing the strong breeze, Cork found it hard to launch any meaningful attacking movements. But if the winners’ sharp approach play gave them a clear edge, the award of two penalties made all the difference.
First, Sean Og hAilpin dragged O Cinneide down, but O Cinneide got up to drive his shot past Kevin O’Dwyer and then Ronan McCarthy was adjudged to have fouled John Crowley as a high ball was grabbed by O’Dwyer. Again O Cinneide fired past the goalkeeper to push the margin out to 12 points.
“We gave them too much room and they made us pay,” said Ciaran O’Sullivan, who had to go off injured with a recurrence of his groin injury. The only area where Cork were having any success was in the corner, where Corkery was giving Killian Burns the runaround and despite the gusting breeze, no one in the 41,000 crowd could see Kerry loosening their grip.
But back came Cork, as midfielders Fachtna Collins and Nicholas Murphy finally won some breaking ball, and with the half-backs Owen Sexton and Martin Cronin upping their workrate, Kerry were outscored by 0-8 to 0-2 over the next 25 minutes.
“We’re a bit disappointed,” Kerry captain Seamus Moynihan said. “We seem to let teams back into matches too easily. It was the same against Meath in the League, when you’ve a good lead you should consolidate and we’re not doing that.”
From the moment Corkery flicked in a goal following Philip Clifford’s free, the comeback started in earnest, but with subs Maurice Fitzgerald and Denis O’Dwyer making important contributions, Kerry soaked up the pressure.
Antrim 2-8, Derry 0-14
Seeing is believing and the summer of football shocks continues. Bush telegraph reports of Antrim’s comeback from an eight-point deficit in last Sunday’s dramatic Ulster semifinal at Casement Park weren’t given too much credence at first — maybe it was really 0-8 to 0-14 — but it actually took an astonishing intervention by Derry’s Anthony Tohill on the stroke of full-time to prevent the unthinkable.
Sheeny McQuillan’s long-distance free appeared to be drifting over the bar to give Antrim their greatest-ever victory when Tohill soared above his teammates to somehow grab the ball. For a team that hadn’t tasted victory in a championship game for 18 years, their recent triumph over Down was widely regarded as a once-off, but now everyone is taking notice.
“What people will have to understand,” said McQuillan, “is that we are the new Antrim. This is not the team that has lost for 18 years. Once you get to know us, you’ll find out how good we are in the future.”
Derry certainly know now despite surging into a big lead over the opening 40 minutes.
In fact, Antrim were a huge disappointment for most of the first half as Tohill and Dermot Heaney controlled midfield with Paul McFlynn probing effectively from the half-back line. There were eight wides and several other wasted chances, but teenager Patrick Bradley looked sharp at corner forward and Dermot Dougan led the attack with real conviction.
“Our manager, Brian White, told us at halftime that the breeze was worth about five points and that we were in with a great chance,” substitute Kevin Madden said.
Not everyone might have agreed. But when Kevin Brady scored the first of his two goals in the 49th minute, the gap had come in to a more manageable four points. There was an element of luck as Brady latched onto a miss-kick by Con Colman to punch the ball home, but his second with two minutes left was a beauty.
Brady beat off several challenges before slotting in from close range and amazingly Antrim were level.
“We were lucky to get out of a tough game,” Derry manager Eamon Coleman said. “I don’t really know what happened maybe we just relaxed and let them back into it.”
Even if Derry aren’t caught napping in the replay, Antrim have certainly made their mark on this championship.
Offaly 3-15, Wexford 1-8
Offaly are alive and well and on their way to the Leinster hurling final, but what about Wexford? All the talk of revival and rebuilding after that historic All Ireland triumph of 1996 went up in smoke at Croke Park last Sunday, when they were thrashed by 13 points.
“In the end it was farcical, they just took us apart,” was the depressing summation of Wexford full forward Larry Murphy.
Depressing, but also true. It was Offaly’s biggest-ever championship victory over their provincial rivals and they didn’t even have to be firing on all cylinders to turn a game into a massacre.
It was as if Wexford never got started. Muted, hesitant and seemingly without a game plan, they were ruthlessly opened up during the second half. The losers’ only trademark was Paul Codd’s insistence on going for goal from close-range frees — the ploy paid off on one occasion when Murphy scrambled a goal just before the interval after Codd’s shot had been blocked — but there were times when Wexford were in dire need of a point.
Offaly were clearly superior from an early stage and when Brendan Murphy burst on to a loose ball to shoot home the game’s first goal, they were 1-5 to 0-2 in front. Offaly were giving nothing away at the back, where the Whelahan brothers — Brian, Simon and Barry — provided a solid launching pad to turn defense into attack and they soon surged further ahead after the break with three points from Johnny Dooley and one from sub John Troy.
By that time, both Wexford veterans Martin Storey and Tom Dempsey had been replaced and they were as aware as anyone that their careers were over.
“It was emotional at the end,” Dempsey said. “But there’s more important things for Wexford hurling than Martin Storey and myself. We’ve had a great innings, we can’t complain really.”
A second goal by Joe Errity and the sending off of Liam Dunne for a second bookable offense ended Wexford’s rapidly dwindling interest in the proceedings.
“You could see their heads drop,” Johnny Dooley said later. Dooley helped himself to nine points, including six frees and one 65, before Gary Hannify finished the job with this team’s third goal following a superb center by Brian Whelahan.
“We might have flattered ourselves in the end,” Whelahan acknowledged. “We know from looking at what’s happened in Munster and from looking at Kilkenny, that they’re all a league above us.”
As usual, the bluffing has started.
Kilkenny 3-16, Dublin 0-10
Easy, so easy. Kilkenny cruised into the Leinster final where they’ll meet Offaly, but this one-sided affair won’t have shed too much light on manager Brian Cody’s preparations. For a few fleeting moments, Kilkenny were awesome, after that they did as much as they had to.
“We’ve a championship match under our belt now,” Cody said, “but it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.”
Two first-half goals by Charlie Carter set the tone and the margin was already nine points at the changeover. By that stage, Dublin manager Michael O’Grady knew his fate.
“I would have loved to go out on a high, but we were badly caught, so the lads are entitled to hear a new voice now,” he said. “My time is up, but there are some good young hurlers in the panel.”
Liam Walsh, David Sweeney and Conor McCann did their best in defense, but on occasions they were swamped by the skill and variety of the Kilkenny attacks.
Following the success of the round-robin system, this was Dublin’s fourth championship game of the summer. It was Kilkenny’s first and still the gulf was 15 points at the end.